The picture postcard surroundings that cradle the Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium can sweep you off your feet. The sound of the Ibangkatuweva Lake water released just behind the smallish stadium recites poetry on the landscape. The Dambulla Rocks — steeped in medieval history — and the lake flank the pavilion. Only the intermittent thuds of willow on ball get your feet back on the ground where Sri Lanka and India went through their training sessions.
India’s session lasted close to three hours and stretched into the late afternoon on Tuesday, the eve of the five-match ODI series. The session might have been extended to shake off whatever moss that might have accumulated in a month-long break the team is returning from. Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni treaded carefully when asked if the team was rusty. “It depends on the result. If you lose the first game then you are rusty. If you win the first game they will say you are fresh,” he said adding “most of the guys were playing. They played the Ranji Trophy semifinals and the final. But there are a few who haven’t. But they were practicing back home and were doing what was needed and they are ready for international cricket.”
Irrespective, it was Sachin Tendulkar (he didn’t feature in India’s 3-2 win last August) who had the longest stint at the nets, the bulk of which was spent facing the seamers. Probably the history of medium-pacers getting some purchase here — something that Dhoni kept harping on — was a reason.
With the likes of Muttiah Muralitharan and mystery-man Ajantha Mendis in their ranks, shouldn’t the wicket be designed to suit the strength of the hosts? The picture got clearer as evening approached when groundsmen put a layer of sponge on the wicket underneath the covers, presumably to soak up the moisture that forms underneath the covers.
Dhoni kept his options open. “We could go in with a 4-1 or a 3-2 combination but we will decide that once we see the conditions tomorrow,” he said. But it seemed Saurashtra allrounder Ravindra Jadeja might have to wait a bit for his debut. “We prefer youngsters and so if someone does well in the domestic tournaments he is taken in the squad. But in the absence of Harbhajan Singh, Pragyan Ojha is our best spinner. Jadeja will surely get a chance in the series but we haven’t decided when. Obviously, his strong point would be his batting,” the skipper said.
The Sri Lanka camp sounded confident after series wins in Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Pakistan and skipper Mahela Jayawardene credited it to the youngsters. Murali and Mendis form a lethal pair and youngsters Nuwan Kulasekhara and Thilina Thushara have handled the new ball exceedingly well of late.
So with full-strength teams going at each other, it is unlikely that the series will have ‘friendly’ overtones to it.