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India seek dose of luck in final Sri Lanka Test

cricket Updated: Aug 01, 2010 15:25 IST
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Top-ranked India will pray the coin drops in their favour as they attempt a series-levelling win in the third and final Test against Sri Lanka starting at the P. Sara Oval on Tuesday.

India, who trail 1-0 in the series, were forced to bowl first in batting-friendly conditions in the previous two matches after skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni lost the toss both times.

It meant a punishing struggle for an attack shorn of injured pace spearhead Zaheer Khan, as Sri Lanka ran up 520-8 in the first Test in Galle and 642-4 on a featherbed wicket at the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) in Colombo.

Dhoni, who has now lost seven tosses in a row, refused to blame his bowlers even though they claimed just 15 wickets in the first two Tests.

"We have bowled first both times where there was nothing in the wicket for the bowlers," he said. "In such conditions, it is difficult to either take wickets or contain the runs."

Dhoni defended leading off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, who has managed only two wickets in the series so far at an unflattering average of 152, saying flat pitches rarely helped slow bowlers.

"There was no turn or bounce for him in both games," the Indian captain said. "But he is a match-winner and if he gets favourable conditions, he will be a different bowler."

Harbhajan, whose 357 wickets make him the world's leading Test bowler now that Muttiah Muralitharan has retired, may find solace in an Oval pitch regarded as the most bowler-friendly in Sri Lanka.

Conditions are expected to be different from the drawn match at the SSC last week where 1,478 runs were scored for the loss of just 17 wickets on a pitch that offered no assistance to the bowlers.

Sri Lanka Cricket curator Anurudda Polonowita was confident the Oval wicket would yield a better contest between bat and ball.

"There will be more life in this pitch for both fast bowlers and spinners," he said. "That's the natural character of the pitch. There will also be enough runs to be had for the batsmen."

Of the 14 Tests played at this ground, 10 have produced results with the hosts winning seven, including the last five in a row.

Sri Lanka, whose new-look attack in the second Test was hammered for 707 runs by the Indians, will be bolstered by the expected return of sling-arm fast bowler Lasith Malinga from a knee injury.

Malinga and Muralitharan claimed 15 of the 20 scalps during the 10-wicket win in Galle, before the off-spinner bowed out of Test cricket with an unprecedented haul of 800 wickets.

"Malinga's knee was stiff and sore after Galle, but he is much better now," said Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara. "His return will be a real bonus for us."

India faced a tricky selection issue after Suresh Raina, a last-minute inclusion in place of the indisposed Yuvraj Singh, hammered 120 on debut in the second Test.

The two left-handers will contest the number six spot, while opener Gautam Gambhir is likely to replace Murali Vijay at the top of the order after recovering from a knee injury.

India go into the match buoyant by their batting form at the SSC. Veteran Sachin Tendulkar hammered his fifth double-century, and opener Virender Sehwag hit 99 after making 109 at Galle.

The only batting concern for the tourists remains the seasoned Rahul Dravid, who has managed just 65 runs so far in three innings.