A few thousand miles away from home, and an hour’s drive from the scene of their latest Test success, India meet their neighbours from across the Palk Strait in a three-day match from Friday.
Sandwiched between the terrific triumph at Trent Bridge and the challenge of The Oval Test, this game is not overly significant. The Indians would know what XI they would take into the last game, despite the concerns over one excitable young paceman. This game presents an opportunity to rest some of the men who have been in good form, the men who have performed.
On Thursday morning, India had a two-hour optional nets session, overseen over the last quarter by Rahul Dravid, though he didn’t throw himself into action.
Except one, those who did get involved were the men who’ve been watching the action from the sidelines so far — Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Ranadeb Bose, Ishant Sharma, Ramesh Powar — apart from the regular opener, Wasim Jaffer. Robin Singh, the team fielding coach, indicated that many of these would get an opportunity against Sri Lanka A.
“A lot of the guys have sat out, and this will be an opportunity for them to exhibit their talent,” Singh said. Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly are likely to sit out of the match, as is Zaheer Khan. Ganguly has looked good in all the three longer innings he has played, and Tendulkar too got a long knock at Trent Bridge. Rahul Dravid would be keen to get a few, and he is, thus, likely to lead India on Friday.
There is a possibility that Anil Kumble might be given a break, just to rest his overworked shoulder, even though he hasn’t quite got into the groove here.
Considering the conditions and the options, India are unlikely to opt for a two-man spin attack, and that could mean that India would play only one of Kumble and Powar.
The conditions will help swing — the track has a tinge of green, the sky was overcast on Thursday and there was a light drizzle in the morning. Friday’s forecast suggests rain would be an unwelcome but irresistible visitor.
Robin Singh, asked if he was happy with the fielding, said that it’s an old side and that the fielding standards would rise, but insisted he had no complaints. “You know that most of the guys are on the older side,” Singh said when specifically asked about ground fielding of the Indians.
“If you have a younger side, you’ll see a better fielding unit, and I think we did pretty well during the one-dayers.”
“We’ve been concentrating on taking catches,” said Singh. “And what’s important is that we have held all the catches.” India have actually dropped a couple of catches, but two in two Tests is not a bad record.
Asked about MS Dhoni, who has struggled to gather the wobbling ball after it’s crossed the stumps, he said: “It takes time (to get used to the conditions).
“What’s important is that he has not lost his confidence,” Singh added, suggesting that the keeping has indeed been an area of concern. “He’s held all the catches, and we don’t need to dwell on the negatives.”
Singh pointed that even the England wicketkeeper, Matt Prior, had been struggling. He said that even though Dravid has not got the runs expected of him, it is not an issue with the team.
Sri Lanka A, led by Thilan Samaraweera, a man who has played 39 Tests for the national team, have been very impressive the three weeks they have been in England for. They had crushed an MCC team with international representation at Arundel before they drew their game with county champions Sussex. They lost to Lancashire in a one-day game before beating Yorkshire on Tuesday, chasing down 240 after being reduced to 73 for 6.