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Pressure on India’s stars

The last thing a team needs when on a roll is changes to the winning combination. But since Sri Lanka will be forced to make two major changes — courtesy of Muttiah Muralitharan's retirement and Lasith Malinga's knee injury —India will feel a lot better going into the second Test at the Sinhalese Sports Club on Monday. Amol Karhadkar reports. Match reckoner

cricket Updated: Jul 26, 2010 01:04 IST
Amol Karhadkar

The last thing a team needs when on a roll is changes to the winning combination. But since Sri Lanka will be forced to make two major changes — courtesy of Muttiah Muralitharan's retirement and Lasith Malinga's knee injury —India will feel a lot better going into the second Test at the Sinhalese Sports Club on Monday. Last week's humiliating defeat in Galle, when the Indian batting crumbled in both innings, leaves India with their back to the wall. But the fact that the two bowlers who did the most damage in Galle — Muralitharan and Malinga shared 15 wickets — will mean the batsmen need not fear even before walking to the crease.

Still, there is a major concern for the formidable Indian batting line-up in the form of Ajantha Mendis. The unorthodox spinner, who announced his arrival to Test arena with a 26-wicket series against India two years ago, is making a comeback to the longest form of the game. Having troubled the likes of Tendulkar, Laxman and Dhoni in the warm-up game, Mendis will be confident to replicate his form in the Test.

However, that will not be very easy if Mendis and his colleagues have to bowl first. The track is as flat as it has been over the last decade. Despite building a reputation of being a high-scoring wicket, the headquarters of Sri Lanka Cricket has seen results in 15 of 19 matches so far.

For India to put a huge total on the board in the first innings, the middle order has to fire, something that's not happened in Sri Lanka in the last 10 years. Except for Virender Sehwag, who has scored two centuries in the island nation, no other Indian batsman has been able to cross the three-figure mark since Sachin Tendulkar's century in the Asian Test Championship in 1999. The team also needs a sound start. This may double Sehwag's responsibility, especially in the wake of Gautam Gambhir's niggle in the knee. The southpaw, who managed just two runs off as many innings in Galle, will not be risked if he isn't 100 per cent fit on match morning.

While it's high time the star-studded batting comes good, the bowling department looks as jaded as it has been throughout the tour. While the team management was considering the experience of mediumpacer Munaf Patel ahead of Pragyan Ojha, Harbhajan Singh will have to find a way to break through the defences of Jayawardene, who averages close to 80 in 22 Tests at SSC. If Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman outdo the likes of Jayawardene, Sangakkara and Samaraweera over the next five days, then India will be in with a good chance of levelling the series.