India look to wrap it up in style

Injury-hit visitors look to continue winning momentum; Pujara likely to open

India look to wrap it up in style

Having ended a 13-month drought in splendid fashion, an injury-ravaged but determined Indians will be seeking a place amongst an elite company when they take on Sri Lanka in the third and concluding Test commencing here on Friday.

Locked 1-1 after two contrasting battles, this Indian side will aspire what only one of their predecessors have accomplished — beat Sri Lanka in a Test series on their soil — at the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC).

That feat came way back in 1993 when Mohd Azharuddin’s men beat a formidable Sri Lankan side 1-0 in a three-match series which till date remains their only series win here in six visits, showing how herculean the challenge has been despite conditions not too dissimilar as compared to home.

While the task may appear extremely demanding, it could be achieved now if the Indians play the kind of cricket they have dished out for most part of the tour so — aggressive and with a lot of intent. With transitional Sri Lanka too just smarting from the crushing loss in the second Test and most of their batsmen barring skipper Angelo Mathews struggling for runs, the Indians will be eager to make a name for themselves.

Despite injuries spreading to the team like a contagious disease that has seen both frontline openers Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay and wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha return home, the Indians have the resources to counter them.

KL Rahul, who got a century in the second Test, will open in all likelihood with Cheteshwar Pujara. The designated No 3 batsman after the retirement of legend Rahul Dravid, Pujara’s fortunes have plummeted since the tour of New Zealand in February 2014. The run of low scores in New Zealand, England and Australia resulted in him getting the axe for the final Test against Australia with Rohit being the favoured man now.

While Rohit hasn’t necessarily set the stage on fire, there are quite a few talented batsmen waiting in the wings and this match offers Pujara a chance to make a statement ahead of the South Africa series starting in October. Following Ajinkya Rahane’s brilliant century at promoted No 3 slot in the second Test, it seems the team management may stick with the Mumbaikar at the same position. With skipper Virat Kohli too in fine nick and Rohit Sharma, pushed to No 5 in the previous match after being projected as the No 3 for this series, showing signs of form in the previous match, the batting wears a strong look.

The bowling, generally India’s Achilles Heel on tours, has been outstanding. With 17 wickets so far, R Ashwin has been simply phenomenal, weaving a web around the Sri Lankans who have succumbed in trying to defend as well as attack him.

Leg-spinner Amit Mishra has held his own too in remarkable fashion. The 32-year-old, looking sharper and hungrier, has taken 12 wickets by complementing Ashwin well.

Lead pacer Ishant Sharma has been brilliant so far and with Umesh Yadav, picked instead of the expensive Varun Aaron for the second Test, too showing remarkable patience and discipline, pressure has been exerted from all ends that has been overbearing for the Lankans who have been dismissed in all four innings so far.

With Kumar Sangakkara bidding adieu in the previous game, the Lankan batting now wears an inexperienced look and they need to find a way to counter the Indian bowling that has had their numbers.

Openers Kaushal Silva and Dimuth Karunaratne have struggled for runs while the middle-order, barring skipper Angelo Mathews, has been found wanting, especially against spin. Their bowling has been pretty decent so far but there seems to be an over dependance on left-am spinner Rangana Herath.

On the eve of the match, the pitch had a liberal coating of grass although how much of it will stay remains to be seen. Pitch apart, one major factor that the teams have to contend with is the weather. It’s hot and with the humidity at punishing levels, the players will have to draw every sap of their energy to stay focussed.

Having said that, the Indians will be chasing a place next in an elite class while the Sri Lankans will be determined to avoid a second straight home series defeat.

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