India were unstoppable when they toured the Island Nation two months ago, winning all nine encounters across formats. Sri Lanka had a torrid time in whites as well as shorter formats and their confidence took a massive beating. India have developed into a force to be reckoned and are a relentless force at the moment, especially at home.
After a disheartening campaign at home, Sri Lanka are back to the Indian sub-continent to seek revenge. They did well in the series against Pakistan, winning both the games and will look to replicate similar magic in India as well.
One wouldn’t be wrong in predicting another whitewash in favor of India by looking at the way things have fared for them in the recent times. They have a well-balanced side and have been wreaking havoc at home.
India are the favourites going into the series and can consider this as an ideal platform to prepare for the South African tour. Players KL Rahul, Murali Vijay, Wriddhiman Saha, Ajinkya Rahane, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Ravichandran Ashwin, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja, who were not part of the recently concluded limited-overs format, can find their groove here.
Cheteshwar Pujara was quoted by PTI saying, “Obviously, next year’s South Africa series is something that is there at the back of my mind. The upcoming Sri Lanka series will be a good opportunity to prepare for the South Africa assignment. I am confident of doing well.”
India have played a lot of cricket in the sub-continent in the recent times; they had a magnificent run, beating every team they locked horns with. The conditions in the sub-continent are spin friendly and hardly have any assistance for the seam bowlers. Generally, batting against the seam in the sub-continent is relatively easy than in any other part of the globe. While for seam bowlers, at times the job is hectic without substantial help from the surface. Although Indian cricketers did well, but South Africa will be a different ball game altogether.
India have banked heavily on the spinners in these games, but in South Africa, seamers will play a crucial role. Spinners wreaked havoc at home, but have to make massive amends on harder and bouncier surfaces. The line and length that may have raped fruits at home may not be as effective in South Africa. Preparing seam-friendly wickets will only help spinners adjust early and get used to such surfaces.
First and foremost, South Africa is conventionally reckoned to have produced tough and bouncier wickets. Fast bowlers will have a crucial role to play here and India does have an aura of fine Test bowlers. Umesh, Shami and Bhuvneshwar have been impressive and have the potential to do well in South African conditions. Barring Bhuvneshwar, both Umesh and Shami have not been a regular part of India’s shorter format assignments in the recent time. If India dish out seaming wickets, it will not only them get back into rhythm, but also boost their confidence. After all, bowlers will have to pick 20 wickets to win any side a Test match.
One shouldn’t forget, Sri Lanka does have a good batting and players, who have been in tremendous form. One can expect their batting to give the Indian bowlers a run for their money.
Talking about batting, South Africa is one of the most difficult places to open the batting. Although seaming pitches in India won’t be as hard and bouncy as it will be in South Africa, but it will certainly be close to it. Indian batsmen have mostly batted on slow wickets during the home season and adjusting suddenly to quicker pitches might be difficult. This series could bridge the gap. Sri Lanka have the kind of bowlers, who can do well on seaming pitches, which will only test India’s Achilles heel on such surfaces.
On Tuesday, the pitch at Eden Gardens had a thick layer of grass covering over it, which, perhaps, might be an indication that the surface for the series opener will have some help for the seam bowlers. Kohli on Wednesday said, “Wickets here are looking very sporting. There is a lot of grass on it and we are looking forward to play on it. As I said, we want to build our games in a way that we look forward to playing anywhere in the world. We just want to play good cricket. We don’t wait for conditions that might suit us and our games. We want to rather develop our games for different kind of conditions. If you want to be the top side in the world you have to win anywhere. On Indian conditions you cannot relax, you still have to work hard. The mindset of winning is very important. From that, you look forward to playing in difficult conditions and work on your game. I think once you embrace playing in difficult conditions, that will be the difference. You want to embrace being uncomfortable and that is the most important thing.”
India are scheduled to play three Tests against Sri Lanka and then the shorter formats. For them, this series is as important as the one against South Africa and will be looking to carry the winning momentum overseas. But, with India having an upper-hand they can indeed tinker with the surfaces and dish out seaming wickets for all three games. Even if it backfires, they’ll know what went wrong and have enough time to make the changes.