Nagpur: Denied by the ‘Weather Gods’ in the opening Test, a supremely confident India are set to make some strategic changes to ensure that their dominance of Sri Lanka continues unchallenged in the second match starting here tomorrow.
Having earned the psychological edge by blowing the Sri Lankan top and middle order during the final session of the drawn first Test, the hosts will once again play on a green track at the Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) Stadium in Jamtha. The hint of grass on the pitch is in keeping with the team’s preparation for the gruelling South African tour which starts next month. A decent cover of green on the match strip is a marked departure from what has been a traditionally low and slow batting belter over the years. However, till the first ball is bowled, it will be difficult to presume the kind of bounce that will be on offer.
“It seems to be a good pitch. It will be helpful for the fast bowlers at least on the first two days,” said India skipper Virat Kohli.
For India, the challenge will be to produce an improved performance in trying conditions even though it is expected that the challenge to score runs on this track will be a wee bit less than what it was at the Eden Gardens under overcast conditions.
Kohli has shown how to take a bull by its horn with the magnificent ton in a pressure situation and his men will be itching to do the same against Suranga Lakmal and company. India’s most technically equipped opener Murali Vijay will be making a comeback into the playing XI as Shikhar Dhawan has taken a break for personal reasons.
Experts felt that Vijay’s compact technique was missing during the first two days as Dhawan is known to be a bit edgy early on. The Delhi left-hander did score 94 in the second innings but it was when batting had become easier during the fourth afternoon. Vijay’s ability and clarity on where his off-stump is makes him a valuable asset in the longest format as he has the patience to leave a lot of deliveries. Another certainty in the playing XI is Ishant Sharma –the most capped player in the current Test squad with 77 matches in whites.
With Bhuvneshwar Kumar getting married, the lanky speedster is expected to get two shots to keep the other pace bowling contenders in the playing XI for South Africa tour on tenterhooks. Ishant has done his hard yards in the domestic circuit with 20 wickets from four Ranji Trophy games. He has bowled 116 overs in all, which has been a commendable effort as he was leading the side in all those games. But it will be interesting to see if India persist with two spinners – especially Ravindra Jadeja, who made very little contribution with the ball and had a lukewarm match as a batsman.
If it’s a case of variation in spin bowling, chinaman Kuldeep Yadav is an option but in case there is good carry, rookie Vijay Shankar could be handed his maiden Test cap.
Shankar’s bowling is still not menacing – he is at best a military medium pacer with a speed of nearly 120 kmph as his 27 wickets in 32 first-class games would suggest. But it is his batting average of 49.16 with five hundreds and 10 fifties that makes him a contender.
With Hardik Pandya missing from the set-up, Shankar has a chance of fitting into the jigsaw puzzle, bringing the required stability that comes with a No.6 batsman.
A total of 118 runs (with a century) and six wickets from three Ranji Trophy games will not warrant an India call-up unless someone is summoned for a specific role.
While KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara and skipper Kohli will come into the game brimming with confidence, Ajinkya Rahane will be looking to quickly hit the straps after his twin failure in Kolkata.
Sri Lanka on their part will be happy that they have not lost the first Test after initially dominating the home team for the better part of first four days. There is a high chance that pacer Lahiru Gamage will lose his place in the playing XI after an indifferent performance on a seamer-friendly Eden Gardens track, where he went for 156 runs in two innings with only a wicket to show for his efforts. If Sri Lanka continue to play three pacers, then left-arm pacer Vishwa Fernando could be an option. And in case they want to go with extra slow bower, then chinaman Lakshan Sandakhan is waiting in the wings.
India: Virat Kohli (captain), KL Rahul, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Umesh, Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Vijay Shankar, Kuldeep Yadav and Rohit Sharma.
Sri Lanka: Dinesh Chandimal (captain), Angelo Mathews, Dimuth Karunaratne, Niroshan Dickwella, Dhananjaya de Silva, Suranga Lakmal, Dasun Shanaka, Viswa Fernando, Lahiru Gamage, Lakshan Sandakan, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Dilruwan Perera and Roshen Silva.
Martch starts at 09:30am.