'A challenge to master conditions'

Not since the Asian Test Championship face-off in February 1999, when they amassed 518 for seven declared and 306 for five, have India topped 400 on Sri Lankan soil.

Indeed, there have been only two totals above 300 in the next 14 innings -- 329 in Galle two years back when Virender Sehwag slammed an unbeaten 201, and 338 in the second innings, also in Galle, last week.

These are baffling numbers for a team that has scored runs by the bucketfuls everywhere else, raising the inevitable question if batting in Sri Lanka makes different demands.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who played his first Test in Lanka last week, said, “If you compare the sub-continental pitches, it is quite the same almost everywhere. Pakistan has the flattest tracks, then it is India and Bangladesh. In Sri Lanka, the first couple of days are when the wicket is really flat and best to bat on. After that, the spinners get some help, but you have to vary your pace. It’s not like India, where you can bowl at one pace; with the SG Test ball, you get good bounce. There is a bit more help for the fast bowlers over here because evening and early morning, they get a bit of swing. From the second day, you can get a bit of reverse swing going, too.”

“As for the conditions, it’s a challenge,” the Indian skipper added.  “In most venues out here, it is hot and humid. You don’t realise it sometimes, but you sweat a lot, so you have to keep yourself hydrated, especially if you are prone to getting cramps. You have to be very careful about the amount of water you take in. That’s one of the main challenges, irrespective of the venue in Sri Lanka.”

Sri Lankans, and plenty of other visiting teams, have scored runs by the tons here, but India have only two centuries in their last seven Tests here, both scored by Virender Sehwag. Kumar Sangakkara appeared a little baffled by those numbers. “The wickets are a bit more difficult to score on than in India,” the Lankan skipper observed.

“In India, when the wickets go flat, they remain flat for a very long time. You use the SG ball and we use the Kookaburra, that could be a factor. I don’t think there’s any secret to batting long in cricket. That has remained the same for centuries -- concentration and application are the two clichés. Home conditions also help, you tend to know conditions better. When India play at home, they bat most sides out of the game. I am sure the Indians are trying to change their record here with every game they play.”

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