India today (18) embark on a third Test series in two years against Sri Lanka, with the world’s top-rated side hoping to end their 17-year drought in the island nation. The Indians have not won a Test series in Sri Lanka since a 1-0 success by Mohammad Azharuddin’s team in 1993, despite playing on similar slow wickets at home.
India lost 1-2 the last time they played in Sri Lanka, in August 2008, but gained revenge with a 2-0 victory at home a year later that propelled Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men to the top of the official Test rankings.
India’s new-found love for Test cricket over the more lucrative one-day matches saw them pencil in the three-Test series against Sri Lanka — and another chance to defend their ranking.
It was an offer too good to refuse for Sri Lanka, whose only scheduled Test series this year would have been at home against the West Indies in November.
“The boys were desperate to play Test cricket, which is the pinnacle of the sport, and I am grateful that India agreed to this series,” Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara said.
Sri Lanka, currently fourth in the Test rankings behind India, Australia and South Africa, are hoping to showcase their prowess in home conditions, where they have proved almost invincible.
The Sri Lankans have won eight of their last nine series at home, the only setback coming in 2006, when Pakistan won a two-match series 1-0.
Their success has mainly been down to the prolific work by world bowling record holder Muttiah Muralitharan, backed by a strong batting line-up led by Sangakkara and former captain Mahela Jayawardene. Off-spinner Muralitharan, 38, who will quit the five-day game after the first Test, needs just eight more scalps to reach the unprecedented tally of 800 Test wickets, adding to a record 515 in one-day matches. India have not lost a Test match at home to Sri Lanka, but they know the Sri Lankans are a very different proposition on their own patch.
“We know the past has not been very good, but we want to look towards the future,” said Dhoni, turning out for national duty just two weeks after getting married. “We have played Sri Lanka so much in the last few years that we know their strengths and weaknesses and hopefully we can exploit that. Sri Lanka are a strong team at home, but we have the ability to win.”
India are bolstered by the return of batting superstar Sachin Tendulkar, who missed last month’s Asia Cup limited-overs tournament in Sri Lanka, which Dhoni’s men won beating the hosts in the final.
Also back are the seasoned trio of Rahul Dravid, Venkatsai Laxman and Yuvraj Singh to complete a formidable middle-order to follow openers Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir. But injuries to pace spearheads Zaheer Khan and Shanthakumaran Sreesanth have blunted India’s bowling attack, leaving off-spinner Harbhajan Singh to shoulder the burden.
The Galle International Stadium has happy memories for Sehwag, whose unbeaten double-century inspired India to a massive 170-run victory two years ago.
The action then shifts to Colombo, where the second Test will be played at the Sinhalese Sports Club from July 26, and the third at the P. Sara Oval from August 3. — AFP