Indians eye winning start

Indians eye winning start

Cricket First Test: Kohli's men appear strong for beleaguered Lanka; Pandya could earn debut

Indians eye winning start
One man’s misfortune is another man’s gain and KL Rahul would be well aware of this bitter truth.

It was around the same time two years ago that the Karnataka opener was benefitted from Shikhar Dhawan’s injury-forced absence in the second Test of the series. Not a first-choice opener at that moment, Rahul was included in the side to link up with Dhawan after another regular opener M Vijay was laid low by a hamstring injury here in the first Test. With scores of seven and five in India’s 63-run defeat, Rahul was set to warm the benches during the second but as luck would have it, Dhawan was declared unfit owing to a broken finger. Given another chance, Rahul made it count with a polished 108 that set the base for India’s series-levelling win in Colombo.

Cut to the present, the irony of the situation couldn’t be lost on anyone. Rahul is a first-choice opener now but his illness has thrown open a potential place in the playing 11 for Dhawan who was only included in the squad after Vijay was ruled out at the last minute for the tour which kicks off here at the Galle International Cricket Stadium on Wednesday with the first Test.

Opening combination has been a bit of tricky issue for India to handle for some time now. While Rahul and Vijay have often missed out due to frequent injuries, Dhawan has been in and out of the side due to a combination of injuries and lack of form.

Last time when India lost both the regular openers – Vijay and Dhawan – for the series-deciding third Test here, Cheteshwar Pujara had to step up as opener, a move that also allowed them to accommodate Rohit Sharma in the middle-order. It’s difficult to say such a thought wouldn’t have occurred to Virat Kohli but the Indian skipper indicated he would rather go with the two specialist openers in Dhawan and Abhinav Mukund.

The middle-order from No 3 to 5 pick themselves with Pujara, Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane slated to come in that order. Given last time’s experience when they appeared to have fallen short of a batsman during their unsuccessful chase in the first Test, Kohli would be tempted to play an extra batsman but playing with just four bowlers is a strategy always fraught with danger in these hot and humid conditions.

If the surface turns out to be a placid one, it can be too much of a workload for the four bowlers. To balance this situation, India may just bring in Hardik Pandya who can bat a bit and chip in with a few medium pace overs and possibly provide a breakthrough or two, a job done reasonably well by Stuart Binny the last time around.

Insofar as the core bowling is concerned, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja will take spinners’ slots with Umesh Yadav and Mohammad Shami heavily tipped to man the pace-bowling department. Ashwin, for whom it will be the 50th Test, will be itching for an encore of his show here the previous time. The off-spinner had claimed a 10-wicket haul but his joy was cut-short by Lanka’s come-from-behind win. 
Sri Lanka, on the other hand, are far from a settled unit with pneumonia laying the newly-appointed Test skipper Dinesh Chandimal low. Sri Lanka will choose between the uncapped Danushka Gunathilaka and Dhananjaya de Silva to replace Chandimal while Suranga Lakmal, nursing a niggle, could still play ahead of Lahiru Kumara, with Nuwan Pradeep completing the line-up.

The absence of Chandimal, whose fortuitous century fashioned Lanka’s win here last time against India, has forced the ageless and tireless Rangana Herath to take over the reins of a young and inexperienced side that lost the one-day series to Zimbabwe and barely managed to win the one-off Test. A wily old fox that he is, Rangana will also be expected to shoulder responsibilities, something the veteran left-arm spinner has done with some aplomb since Muttiah Muralitharan’s retirement.

The teams (from): Sri Lanka: Rangana Herath (captain), Upul Tharanga, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Asela Gunaratne, Niroshan Dickwella, Dhananjaya de Silva, Danushka Gunathilaka, Dilruwan Perera, Suranga Lakmal, Lahiru Kumara, Vishwa Fernando, Malinda Pushpakumara and Nuwan Pradeep.

India: Virat Kohli (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Abhinav Mukund, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, R. Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Hardik Pandya, Wriddhiman Saha (wicketkeeper), Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Kuldeep Yadav and KL Rahul.
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