Preparatory exercise for the big test

India, Sri Lanka and New Zealand eye chance to experiment as the World Cup approaches

Preparatory exercise for the big test

In these days of packed calendars and hectic schedules, seven matches in 19 days is a huge luxury, providing the contenders enough time for rest, relaxation and recuperation, though the wisdom of having a reserve day for each of the matches in a place renowned for its dryness is open to question.

Not one of Sri Lanka, India and New Zealand, however, is complaining. The well spread out itinerary is just what India, in particular, require, particularly given the hectic build-up that lies ahead of the World Cup starting in the sub-continent in February.

The World Cup, and the preparations towards the mega event, will be as much on the minds of the think-tanks as the Micromax Cup itself. The homestretch isn’t far away, and whatever experiments need to carried out must be done here and now, because a settled look and clear strategisation must be in place well before the quadrennial extravaganza gets under way.

A combination of injuries and personal reasons have deprived both India and New Zealand of several influential members, so at one level, it will be fruitless to read too much into the outcome here. On the other hand, how the replacements shape up will be watched with great keenness, because as ever, the competition is for no more than two or three spots in each squad.

Sri Lanka start the tournament with a distinct edge not necessarily because they are the hosts. Kumar Sangakkara’s men are as formidable in their own backyard in the shorter version as they are in Test cricket, their familiarity with the conditions accentuated by the fact that they are the only team here at full strength.

It was at the Rangiri Dambulla International stadium that, a month and a half back, they were stopped by an inspired India in the final of the Asia Cup. Smarting from that defeat, and their five-wicket loss in the P Sara Test on Saturday, the Lankans believe there is unfinished business to attend to.

The continued overlooking of Sanath Jayasuriya is a clear pointer that the chances of the 41-year-old playing a record-equalling sixth World Cup are, at best, minimal. A slew of dashing young openers necessitated a brief experiment with the former skipper dropping down to the middle-order, but it was a ploy always more likely to backfire than succeed.
This tournament will also provide an insight into whether Sri Lanka can make do without Muttiah Muralitharan. Retired from Test cricket, the offie is a strong favourite to make the World Cup cut; as such, the progress of Suraj Randiv, Ajantha Mendis and Rangana Herath will be followed with interest.

The Kiwis are without regular skipper Daniel Vettori and his long-term deputy Brendon McCullum, both opting out to usher in fatherhood for a second time, and the immensely talented but trouble-prone Jesse Ryder, ruled out by injury long before another alcohol-induced moment of madness attracted sanctions from New Zealand Cricket.

Ross Taylor leads out a talented but relatively inexperienced team, his deputy Kyle Mills, Scott Styris, Jacob Oram and the returning Grant Elliott carrying huge responsibilities as senior members.

India are missing some of their biggest names – through a combination of injuries and the need for rest, Sachin Tendulkar, Harbhajan Singh and Gautam Gambhir have been left out, while Zaheer Khan is yet to recover from his shoulder injury and S Sreesanth from his knee injury.

India have fielded a plethora of faster bowlers, numbering nearly 20, in the last two years in a bid to identify the men that can support Zaheer and Ashish Nehra. Not too long from now, they will be forced tonarrow that list down to perhaps a half-dozen or so, especially given that the other scheduled one-day assignments before the World Cup are at home against Australia and New Zealand, and away in South Africa at the start of next year.

The scramble for middle-order slots too is well and truly on, the likes of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma giving Yuvraj Singh a proper run for his money. His Test future in some jeopardy following Suresh Raina’s sterling early displays, Yuvraj will need to pull up his socks on his recall to the 50-over scheme of things if he is not to be left behind by the young turks again.

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