Match Preview – India vs Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka in India 2021/22, 1st Test
It’s not treated as a top series, but it has the potential to throw some really good cricket – especially if Sri Lanka’s spinners can deliver
The first World Test Championship (WTC) finalists and the world’s #2 Test team will host the top tabletop players from the current WTC cycle, starting tomorrow. The first Test of the series will be the 100th most marketable cricketer since the retirement of Sachin Tendulkar. And yet, the anticipation that comes with a great series is lacking.
The main reason for this, of course, is Covid-19. Teams live in bubbles, the media are not allowed to watch their preparations, fans are not allowed to stand outside the pitches to greet players. There’s also possibly cricket fatigue, given the recent surge in two-sided cricket, especially T20Is. In 2021, despite the pandemic, or maybe thanks to it and all the cricket being postponed in 2020, 233 international bilaterals were played, 132 of them in the shortest format in the game. The next highest matching numbers are 219 and 100 in 2019.
Just look at Sri Lanka’s schedule: one Sunday they are playing a T20I in Melbourne, the following Sunday they have completed a series of three T20Is in India, and the following Sunday will be the third day of a test. India are no less busy: at one point last year they had two international teams in action at the same time.
That said, the Indian board hardly engages in hard selling. Especially since one of the Tests will be the 100th of one of its greatest players. Only three days before this test, he decided to open the stands to the fans, when the matches on each side of this test were played in front of the crowd. And the match is played on a ground with some of the poorest facilities for crowds.
Some may point to Sri Lanka’s record in India never having won an event as the reason for the lack of buzz. In the last 10 years when the “Big Three” were formalized, they have only played three Tests in India; only Afghanistan played less in the countryside (and Ireland have yet to face India in a test match).
What a pleasure it will be then if such a series strikes back with thrilling cricket. India turns a corner with a new captain and a new intermediate order. It’s the first time since 2012 that they won’t feature either Cheteshwar Pujara or Ajinkya Rahane in the XI. Vice-captain Jasprit Bumrah will only play his third Test at home. By entering the 100 test club, Virat Kohli will reach a landmark that only 70 others have reached, and hopes to mark its long-awaited 71st century. The great spin duo of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja will be reunited after an injury to Jadeja has kept him out of testing cricket since last November.
On the other hand, Lasith Embuldeniya took five five-fors in just 13 tests. The other visiting left-arm spinner, Praveen Jayawickrama, averages 18 in three tests. Young hitter Pathum Nissanka has a first-class average of 63.47. Captain Dimuth Karunaratne has been one of the best fly-half in the world in recent years.
Sri Lanka’s attack will be Suranga Lakmal, two specialist spinners, Dhanajaya de Silva and an additional seamer or specialist spinner depending on conditions. They will have to threaten all 20 Indian wickets to make this series exciting.
India LLWWD (last five matches completed, most recent first) Sri Lanka WWWDD
In the spotlight
He’s not the captain anymore, he hasn’t scored a hundred since late 2019, but that’s Virat Kohlithe moment. Playing all three formats, leading much of his career, it’s a staggering feat that he reached 100 Tests. He hopes this is the start of an Indian summer in his career.
Dimuth Karunaratne could be the only one from the Sri Lankan side who could qualify for a current world XI, but the tests are won by the bowlers, and they will need the best from their main spinner, Lasith Embuldenia, if they should threaten in India. He’ll want a turnaround from the norm of Sri Lankan spinners who don’t do well in India: Murali averaged 45 in the country, Herath 54.
Six of India’s top eight look ready, with Ashwin looking “comfortable” in the net according to Bumrah. Issues 3 and 5 will go to two from Shubman Gill, Shreyas Iyer and Hanuma Vihari. Now vice-captain, Bumrah is expected to be one of the fast two, making way for one of Mohammed Siraj, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav. The final spinner spot will go to one of Jayant Yadav, Kuldeep Yadav and uncapped left arm spinner Saurabh Kumar. The favorite Jayant will make a formidable No. 9 hitter.
Kusal Mendis is back in the squad but not for this test. Dushmantha Chameera is being rescued for day-night test in Bangalore. Niroshan Dickwella is however back and will receive the wicketkeeper gloves. That leaves Dinesh Chandimal competing with the versatile Charith Asalanka for a batting spot. With six of India’s top eight batsmen being right-handed, Sri Lanka could go with the two left-arm spinners and Silva’s Dhananjaya turning it the other way. They are also believed to be considering three fast bowlers.
Rohit Sharma said the pitch was typical for Mohali: on the drier side and should change as the game progresses. “It’s going to spin for sure,” Rohit said. “I can’t say if it will start to do that on day one or day four or whenever, but that will change.”
It is spring in Punjab, and the weather will be pleasant with cool mornings and warm afternoons. There is no rain forecast during the test.
Statistics and anecdotes
If Virat Kohli scores 38 runs in this test, he will become the 14th fastest in the mark of 8000 tries. He will be the 29th overall to do so.
R Ashvin is ready to pass Richard Hadlee, Rangana Herath, Kapil Dev and Dale Steyn to become the eighth highest wicket taker of all time. Kapil, who has four wickets ahead of Ashwin’s 430, is India’s second-highest wicket taker.
“The [upcoming] nine test matches [to complete India’s WTC cycle] are going to be important. I feel like we have to win almost every game. It’s going to be tough, there’s going to be a lot of pressure, but that’s where you’ll develop a lot of character. You will see cricket champions come out of this situation. If you thrive under pressure, you become a solid cricketer for the future. For now, it’s important that we try to stay in the present and think about what we can do in this Mohali test and then move on from there.”captain of india Rohit Sharma
“We’ve never won in India before, so the pressure is on India not to let a game go by. Our job is to use that pressure to our advantage.”Sri Lankan Captain Dimuth Karunaratne
Sidharth Monga is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo