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India in cruise control, Sri Lanka gasp to stay afloat ahead of Pallekele Test

Sri Lanka are flirting with an embarrassing series whitewash in the third Test against India from Saturday as they struggle with problems on and off the pitch.

india vs sri lanka 2017 Updated: Aug 10, 2017 20:32 IST
Sanjjeev K Samyal
Sanjjeev K Samyal
Hindustan Times, Pallekele
India vs Sri Lanka,Indian cricket team,Sri Lanka cricket team
India's captain Virat Kohli celebrates with teammates after winning the second Test match against Sri Lanka.(REUTERS)

The confidence level is so low even some of the Sri Lanka Board officials are privately joking about the number of days the final Test, starting on Saturday, will last. Even after making some allowance for rain to rob a day’s play, the bet is on four days. (LIVE STREAMING)

While the Indian team stands on the cusp of achieving a Test series whitewash, it’s a sad situation for Sri Lanka cricket, whose earlier generations built a reputation for an entertaining brand of cricket.

It’s not just the India series. The first signs of rut were visible in their struggles against Bangladesh. Sri Lanka just about managed to keep them at bay in the home series. But alarm bells started to ring when Zimbabwe ran them close. And their worst fears have come true against India.

No crowds for Tests

It’s no surprise the crowds have stayed away from the games. Galle generally pulls in the best attendance for Tests in Sri Lanka, but this time even the Test faithful stayed away. And there were few takers for cricket at the Sinhalese Sports Club ground too. And even though the teams have been in Pallekele, near Kandy, for two days, there’s hardly any buzz about the third Test.

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So, what ails Sri Lanka cricket? Is the younger generation losing interest in the game, as unlike India where cricket towers over other disciplines, there are other sports like rugby which have a good following here?

Former skipper Aravinda de Silva says cricket’s status as a mass sport is still intact. “The interest is there, no doubt about it. We are going through a rebuilding process, but you can’t be saying that forever. You should know where things have gone wrong and need to put it right fast. The longer you wait, this process is going to get longer. We need to seriously look at the long term and stick to the plan,” said Aravinda.

The series against India should force the Sri Lankan cricket officials to do soul searching. They will have to take a hard look at their domestic structure as pointed out by some of their players. During the second Test Dimuth Karunaratne, opening batsman and Sri Lanka’s main performer in the series, lamented the limited exposure for the players.

No first-class games

“They (India) played a lot of good cricket (in this series). They’ve played a lot of IPL and first-class cricket. In Sri Lanka, we only have 8 to 10 domestic first-class matches. Then we have five one-dayers. That’s it for the season. I think that’s the main reason. We have to play more first-class cricket and then we can find more players who can dominate the game. That’s the thinking – what SLC have to work on for the players.”

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Going into the final Test at Pallekele, all the pressure is on the home team to come out and make a statement. And it has showed in the general approach of the two sides during the series. The tense Sri Lankan team has been totally focused on getting as much training as possible while India have been relaxed, restricting rigorous practice sessions to one each before the Tests. After stretching every sinew on Thursday, Virat Kohli’s side took a day off on Thursday with many taking time out to visit the famous hill resort of Nuwara Eliya, a couple of hours drive from Kandy.

First Published: Aug 10, 2017 20:28 IST