The final segment of India's 45-day-long Sri Lankan sojourn beckons as the team returns to Colombo for the last three ODIs. With the series tied at 1-1, it's almost as though a new mini-series is beginning, and given how different the conditions are likely to be, it might be just that.
The Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium hosted two low-scoring matches, but by no means dull or bereft of strong individual performances. Since there isn't much domestic cricket played in Dambulla, the pitches are usually hard and fresh when international cricket comes around. There's assistance for the fast bowlers, almost through the 100 overs in the game. "It's a challenge for the batsmen. There's no point playing on flat tracks and scoring 300 runs all the time," Mahela Jayawardene, Sri Lanka's captain, said when asked about the pitch at Dambulla. "From a player's point of view, this is a great challenge. You need to play on these kind of wickets. It does a bit with the new ball for a while and then settles in. Once you get in, it's a very good wicket to bat on. The ball is coming nicely to the bat and there's a bit of bounce. You can't ask for flat tracks where you can score 300 runs all the time. It is great one-day cricket."
Curiously, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, did not seem to read the pitch particularly well on either occasion - choosing to bat first the first time and then suggesting that the pitch may not have had that much in it for the fast bowlers in the second match, despite choosing to field. "This was a very deceptive wicket. I thought there was less grass, and perhaps it wouldn't assist the seamers," he said. "But there was some help for the fast bowlers consistently."
The seamers from both teams enjoyed the conditions over at Dambulla, picking up 19 of the 29 wickets to fall, but they might just find the going tough at the R Premadasa Stadium where the remaining matches will be played. Traditionally a slow, low pitch, which has not changed much in character over the years, the quick men can expect less bounce and carry and negligible seam movement. Add to this the high humidity of Colombo and you expect the spinners to play a bigger role. For the batsmen, though, it does not get any easier. It is difficult to commit to strokes with the ball stopping and coming through.
"It's really tough for the bowlers in Sri Lanka. Most of the time in Sri Lanka, it's not a bowler's paradise," said Dhoni. "Dambulla gives assistance to the fast bowlers. But otherwise it's tough conditions, hot and humid, after the initial overs, you have to bend your back to even get seam movement. I don't think they'll get these kinds of wickets in the coming three games."