When India last played Sri Lanka at the Green Park here in 1986, the game was expected to be a cakewalk for the hosts. Sri Lanka, who were greenhorns in Test cricket then, however, held India to a draw, which was no less than a win for the babes of international cricket. Twenty-odd years and many run-rich Tests later, the two face each other again in an even contest.
And if at all there is pressure, it is on India. They barely managed to save the Motera Test and are up against a balanced and buoyant Sri Lankan side.
India, with their lacklustre show in the shorter formats of the game, have compounded their problems by not playing enough Test cricket in the past one year.
While Sri Lanka have won Test series against New Zealand, Pakistan and Bangladesh and even handled the limited overs assignments with élan, this is India’s first Test series after the tour of New Zealand in March.
Though India have a formidable batting and bowling line-up, it’s the Sri Lankans who are looking in good rhythm at the moment. The visitors are playing as a unit and everyone has played their roles to perfection so far.
Angelo Mathews and Prasanna Jayawardene are valuable buffers down order and as Kumar Sangakkara said on Monday: “Prasanna Jayawardena was always a better wicketkeeper than me. Now, that he’s getting an opportunity after so long, he is taking the responsibility well and with a smile.”
Sri Lanka’s bowling might depend a bit too much on Muttiah Muralitharan, but Sangakkara sees no problem in that. “When you have a legend, you depend on him,” he said.
Murali himself would be hungry for more wickets after his toil in the Ahmedabad Test.
Wicket might assist spinners
Skippers Sangakkara and MS Dhoni are hoping for a result at Kanpur. “The wicket is very different and has a lot of grass on it,” Dhoni said. But both captains believe that beneath the inch-long blades lies a very dry surface, which might assist the spinners.
It is unlikely that the wicket will crumble as much as it did in April 2008. Dhoni also said there’ll be reverse swing, which brings in the importance of Ishant Sharma and S Sreesanth. Will both get a look in with Zaheer Khan or will one between Amit Mishra and Pragyan Ojha get a nod?
That will be decided on Tuesday morning as the bowling combination continues to remain Dhoni’s prime concern.
Who’ll play, who won’t
While Dammika Prasad is likely to sit out due to a hamstring injury, Sri Lanka may opt for either Dilhara Fernando or Nuwan Kulasekara. On Monday, Kumar Sangakkara said he could also play three spinners. If the visitors play two then Rangana Herath — who disappointed in the first Test — may make way for Ajantha Mendis, who has had a fair amount of success against India.
As for India, if they go in with two spinners on the traditionally slow Kanpur wicket then the choice could be between Amit Mishra and Pragyan Ojha. One of the two is likely to go back to Ranji games as M.S. Dhoni promised. Dinesh Karthik, who came in as cover for Dhoni, will fly back to Dharamsala where Tamil Nadu play Himachal Pradesh.