Hardly have the celebrations and discussions of the Asia Cup triumphs died down and the Indians have stepped onto Sri Lankan soil. There are more famous faces in this squad, when comparing with the lot who contested the Asia Cup. It all points out to what should be closely fought series.
Selections always is a point for analyzing and possibly criticizing or even commending, depending on an individuals thinking and ideas. Its never easy to be spot on. Selectors consider all available facts before making their choice. Always a majority of the players pick themselves because they are good enough to be there. The best choice becomes vital when picking the few who are on the borderline.
AJANTHA MENDIS - Is this the moment to baptize him into test cricket? Taking into account the presence of Tendulkar, Gambhir, Sehwag, Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman. A galaxy of stars to bowl at.
The stronger the bench strength, the tougher it becomes in selecting, perhaps one or two players. The balance of the team, in the context of tackling the opponents strength, the condition of the pitch and climatic conditions, are the main deciding factors.
The venue for the first test is the Singhalese Sports Club, where often the pacemen have an advantage on day one and in the morning session as the game progresses. That naturally is a temptation to play three fast bowlers. However, the surface prepared for the last test played there against England was very docile. There was little joy for the bowlers and it got slower and slower as the game progressed. The scores tell the story. England batted first and made 351 runs in 126.2 overs. Sri Lanka replied with a mammoth 548 for 9 declared, spending 186.5 overs at the crease, and enjoying a lead of 197 runs. The visitors totaled 250 for 3 wickets as rain interrupted play on the fifth day and as well it did, to end a very boring game.
Both teams will think carefully prior to deciding on their bowling attack. Sri Lanka though will have to look closely at their batting line up not just in the first test but throughout the series. They will look to consolidate on an opening combination. Michael Vandort and Malinda Warnapura performed that duty in the West Indies and were fairly successful. India has an impressive pace quartet to select from. Zaheer Khan is the most experienced while Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel are all tall players who can extract pace and bounce off the pitch. Together with Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, its an attack which will have plenty of variety.
Its an attack which will test the openers and the other batsmen. Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardena, Tilan Samaraweera and T.M. Dilshan are the experienced players and they should get the nod first up. Chamara Kapugedara, Chamara Silva and Upul Tharanga, are the lesser experienced yet capable players in contention. They have played well in stages. Tharanga has promised much, but then gone through a lean spell. He is a gifted player and must be given every opportunity to make a come back. Silva and Kapugedara are also capable hands but maybe sidelined, unless they find favour ahead of one of the senior batsmen.
The choice of a partner for Chaminda Vaas will be the most difficult decision and also, the composition of the attack. What will be the preference; two or three pacemen or one or two spinners. Which way to go will only be known at the end of each game! This becomes a debatable issue for two reasons. One, the emergence of Ajantha Mendis. Is this the moment to baptize him into test cricket. Taking into account the presence of Tendulkar, Gambhir, Sehwag, Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman. A galaxy of stars to bowl at. Two, Dilhara Fernando and Farveez Maharoof, have not had long match spells after injury. Test cricket requires a lot of that.
With Sangakkara relishing batting duties without having to don the keeping gloves means that Prasanna Jayawardena should be behind the sticks. Still, no final eleven can be predicted. There are more names that can be thrown into the hat: Thilan Thushara and Nuwan Kulasekera (pace), Rangana Herath, Malinga Bandara (spin), Mahela Udawatte, Thilina Kandamby (batsman) and Kaushal Silva (wicket keeper / batsman). It is a healthy sign to have that many players to talk about.
- Ranil Abeynaike is a former Sri Lanka cricketer and curator of SSC