India look to maintain hold over Lanka

After routing the islanders recently, Kohli's men start firm favourites

India look to maintain hold over Lanka

 A steady drizzle that began in the wee hours remained steady through the day, casting a cloud of doubt over the scheduled start of the first Test between India and Sri Lanka.

While the drizzle never turned into a heavy rain, it was relentless in its intensity, forcing both the teams to cancel their respective practice sessions ahead of the match scheduled for a Thursday start here at the Eden Gardens. The damp weather was the last thing that was needed for this contest against the islanders who hosted India less than three months ago in a full-fledged bilateral series and were whitewashed in all three formats.

No different outcome is expected from this series either, given India's form and Lanka's history in India that is overwhelmingly in favour of the hosts. Sri Lanka have played 17 Tests in India so far, losing 10 and drawing the remaining matches.

Lanka did well to drub Pakistan 2-0 in the UAE following a 0-3 thrashing at the hands of India in their backyard but that will count for little whenever they step on the turf here. To start with, the conditions aren't the same and secondly, and most importantly, India are no Pakistan in the longer format. They are the number one side in the world by some distance. Such is India's hold on the top position in the ICC rankings for Tests that even if they lose to Lanka 0-3, even if it's only in the realm of fantasies, they can't be displaced from there.

Though the conditions vastly differ from here to South Africa, where India's next assignment is scheduled early next year, they are treating this series as a preparation for their first big challenge in nearly two years. If nothing else, at least to get themselves into Test mode after an overdose of limited-overs cricket in the last two months.

Not many, however, will have to work hard to get rid of the habits they would have picked up in the shorter format. Two of the three openers -- KL Rahul and M Vijay -- are coming on the back of a good outing in the Ranji Trophy. Ajinkya Rahane has played two matches for Mumbai and their spin duo of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have had a lengthy outing in first-class cricket after a forced break from limited-overs cricket. Even the pacers, barring Bhuvneshwar Kumar, have spent considerable time on the field playing red-ball cricket.      

The challenge for Virat Kohli, though, is not so much of picking but it's leaving out some equally deserving players. While Shikhar Dhawan will start in the 11, there is going to be a toss up between Rahul and Vijay, who is returning from injury. Though by logic and his record in Tests Rahul should be the first choice, given the pattern of recent selections and Kohli's non-committal stand on who his other opener is going to be, the suspense will continue till the toss.

The rest of the batting just falls in place but India will spend some thought over whether to play the fifth bowler or an extra batsman on a pitch that is expected to aid the seamers.

All-rounder Hardik Pandya's availability would have allowed India to go with just five batsmen without worrying too much about the extra batsman as he would have compensated for both the fifth bowler and the extra batsman. In his absence, there is a dilemma over whether to go with five bowlers or four bowlers. It will be on the back of India's mind that the re-laid pitch at the Eden has been a seamers' ally and last year against New Zealand, Rohit Sharma, the sixth specialist batsman in the team, proved to be crucial in the team's win with his 82.

Sri Lanka too face the same situation. Four bowlers can be too less to tame this Indian batting and five batsmen can be too less against the home attack.

DH News Service

Teams (from)  India: Virat Kohli (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, M Vijay, Rohit Sharma, Kuldeep Yadav, Ishant Sharma.

Sri Lanka: Dinesh Chandimal (capt), Dimuth Karunaratne, Dhananjaya de Silva, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Angelo Mathews, Lahiru Thirimanne, Rangana Herath, Suranga Lakmal, Dilruwan Perera, Lahiru Gamage, Lakshan Sandakan, Vishwa Fernando, Dasun Shanaka, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Roshen Silva.

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