India look to seize the initiative

After the up and down Kolkata Test, Kohli's men look to dominate Lanka

India look to seize the initiative

Number 50 seems to be the flavour of the series between India and Sri Lanka.

No sooner had Virat Kohli brought up his 50th  international hundred on the final day in the first Test in Kolkata than Bhuvneshwar Kumar claimed his 50th  Test wicket, dismissing visiting opener Sadira Samarwickrama for nought. And on Friday, Nagpur will earn the distinction of hosting its 50th  international match when India and Sri Lanka clash in the second Test here at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium.

While almost half of the first Test was lost to a combination of rain and bad light, no such spoiler appears on the horizon for the second match. A bright sun with no sign of rain holds the promise of a full match provided both teams fight it out on an equal footing.

The excess seam and swing movement at the Eden and the turn of coin in tourists' favour had significantly reduced the gulf in quality between the No 1-ranked India and the sixth-placed Lanka but on what appears to be a typical Test surface, the islanders may find it hard to test the home side as much as they did for a better part of the first Test.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar, their best bowler in Kolkata, and Shikhar Dhawan, who struck a breezy 94 in the second innings, may be out due to personal reasons but India have enough in their reserves to offset their absence. Ishant Sharma and M Vijay will most probably occupy those two vacant spots in the final 11, though the addition of pace-bowling all-rounder Vijay Shankar provides an interesting dimension to the set-up.

Skipper Virat Kohli had some nice things to say about the Tamil Nadu player but it would be outlandish to presume he would get his Test debut unless any of the three pacers is injured. Ishant had a lengthy stint at the 'nets' but Umesh Yadav spent very little time bowling while Mohammad Shami didn't bowl at all.

Both captains thought the pitch would have something for the pacers at the start with spinners coming into play in the last two days which means normalcy would be restored. While it won't be exactly Eden for the seamers, there appears to be enough in the pitch to keep them interested, especially at the start.

Unlike the brownish look that the pitch sported for the previous Test here against South Africa, there is an unusual amount of grass cover which is certain to lose its liveliness as the sun beats down, allowing spinners to have their say. R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, India's biggest match winners in the recent past, will definitely get to bowl more than the combined 10 overs that they were given in the first Test.    

After the first-innings shocker at the Eden where they were reduced to 17/3 on the opening day, 74/5 on the second before being shot out for 174 on the third, the Indian batsmen did well in the second hit to have enough on board to put Lanka under pressure. While openers KL Rahul and Dhawan struck confident half-centuries, Kohli constructed a brilliant hundred to announce all was well with the home batting.

In conditions less challenging, they can be doubly dangerous for the Lankan attack which may include an extra spinner in left-arm chinaman Lakshan Sandakan who had claimed a five-wicket haul against India in the Pallekele Test in August. With veteran Rangana Herath and Dilruwan Perera, Sandakan will form a three-pronged spin unit. Paceman Lahiru Gamage may sit out as another seamer Dasun Shanaka gives the option of batting as well.

Talking of batting, Sri Lankan senior players will have to stand up and take responsibility. Skipper Dinesh Chandimal and Angelo Mathews are two players that the team looks up to and the current-former captain duo needs to produce something significant to help Lanka stay competitive.

 

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