When something gets monotonous in life, it starts to get on the nerves. Such is the state of the series between India and Sri Lanka. The two nations lock horns almost every year or maybe twice a year too. Like in 2017; just a couple of months India had toured Sri Lanka where they had thrashed the hosts in all the three formats. In this monotonous routine of India playing the Lankans, one did not realise that Sri Lanka have been invited to a Test series after a long gap of eight years. Co-incidentally, the matches are being played on the exact same date – November 16, November 24 and December 2. Overall, this is Sri Lanka eighth Test series in India and after having played 17 Tests in India, Sri Lanka are still in look for their maiden Test win on the Indian soils.
Dinesh Chandimal was handed the Test captaincy in July under difficult circumstances. Sri Lanka had just lost the limited-overs series at home to Zimbabwe and just before the one-off Test, their full-time captain Angelo Matthews had stepped down from the role, across the formats.
Ever since the retirements of stalwarts like Kumar Sangakkara, Jayawardene and Dilshan took place, Sri Lanka have had issues to find suitable replacements for them. The Australian whitewash 3-0 they did last year has been their only significant achievement since those retirements.
While Upul Tharanga was made the one-day skipper, Chandimal was given the responsibility of the Test side. Under his leadership, Sri Lanka won the one-off Test against Zimbabwe by a whisker before they were mercilessly thrashed by the Indians in three Tests. Then the BCCI announced that the same Lankan side, that nervously surrendered at home against Team India, would visit India for a full-fledged series a few months later and that announcement seemed absolutely rubbish.
Chandimal-led Sri Lanka, with very little confidence left, then faced Pakistan in the former’s adopted home ground of the UAE for a two-Test series and limited-overs cricket. The series turned out to be a life-changer for the Lankan team, where they reunited against all the expectations and became the first-ever side to defeat Pakistan in the UAE in a Test series. There were several heroes for Sri Lanka at the end of the series – Dilruwan Perera had rediscovered his all-round vim, Chandimal played a couple of captain’s knock, Niroshan Dickwella was as good as with the bat as behind the wickets and Rangana Herath carried forward his vicious spin.
Suddenly, the Lankan side seemed like they had risen up from rock bottom and were ready to challenge the bigger Test teams. But, India being the No. 1 Test side and more importantly, they were playing at home, they would be nothing less ruthless bulls for these timid Lankans.
However, now, Sri Lanka are in the hands of a young and fearless captain, who has the belief in his team to do well in India.
Chandimal’s underdog Sri Lankan side has reached India and the opening Test is due to start on Thursday. Chandimal will become the sixth Sri Lankan captain after Bandula Warnapura, Duleep Mendis, Arjuna Ranatunga, Marvan Atapattu and Kumar Sangakkara, to lead the side in India in Tests. After Sri Lanka were humiliated by Virat Kohli’s side by winning all the nine matches (three Tests, five ODIs and a T20I) in September, Chandimal still dreams of creating an upset in the upcoming series. He aims to do something that was missing on all the Sri Lankan captain’s CV who toured India – beat the hosts in a Test.
Chandimal has had a decent partnership with the side’s new coach Nic Pothas so far. The Test series win against Pakistan has done wonders by reviving a new hope in the dressing room and that force will keep driving the team forward.
“We did really well against Pakistan and the boys are in a good shape. We know India are the number one team at the moment and have seen them play some really good cricket in the last two years. This will be a challenging series for us. We have never won a Test in India. So it’s a dream for us to win one this time. We need to start well in this series,” Chandimal challenged.
The coach and the captain have admitted to not get under pressure by wasting too much time in thinking how good the Indian side is. Since the two countries played a series just a few months ago, Sri Lankans are well aware of the areas they need improvement against this opponents. Unlike the Pakistan series, Chandimal has hinted to rope in an all-rounder and go with the four-bowler strategy. Knowing how good the Indian batsmen and bowlers are, Sri Lanka will have to strengthen all the departments and they cannot afford to be either a bowler or a batsman short in a Test so an all-rounder’s option will work anytime. Decisions like these will help Chandimal succeed in his plans.
Apart from Herath and Matthews, the rest of the other players will be touring India for the first time and that shows how big a task there is ahead of Chandimal.
When asked how will they deal the World No. 1 and 2 Test spin duo of Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin, Chandimal said, “They are Nos 1 and 2 in the world. They bowled really well the last couple of years. I don’t want to tell our plans in front of you. But we have something up our sleeves. You will see our plans in one week’s time and what are we going to do against them.”
When Sri Lanka faced India a few months back, the team was relatively new, including the support staff. Now, having played a handful of series together, the team has grown as a unit across the departments and it will be foolish if India takes Chandimal’s side for granted in the Test series.