July 17, 2010

India Sri Lanka Test Series: Preview

So once again Sri Lanka takes on India on the cricket field. As someone – I do not remember whether a friend or a cricket journalist – recently said India-Sri Lanka contests are becoming a bit like bet matches between two close-lying neighbourhoods in a city. The last test match the Emerald Islanders played was against the Indians, late last year and after that the two teams have taken on each other in a number of (partly futile) One-Day internationals, including the finals of the supposedly coveted Asia Cup. Now the attention turns to the longer version again with the first test of a three-series rubber beginning in Galle tomorrow (July 18, Sunday).

As I had already discussed in my previous post, the greatest significance of the match will arguably be that it will be Muttiah Muralidharan’s final test. As the veteran off-spinner stands on 792 wickets, the local crowd would be keen to see if their country’s greatest cricketer can get to 800 and add one more feather to his overcrowded cap. If Murali takes at least eight in the match at an economy rate we have come to associate with him (barring the last few test matches), then Sri Lanka may take a 1-0 lead in the series. That is exactly what Murali and the Sri Lankan team and fans will want.

For India, the challenge represents yet another opportunity to correct one of three blemishes in the country’s status as the world’s No.1 ranked test team: they have not beaten Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka. Should the Indians pull this one off, they will then be left with the task of beating the top two teams of the last decade in their own backyards – South Africa and Australia. It is however sensible not to get too far ahead of oneself and look at this particular series as yet another opportunity to win abroad.

While the Indians have the batting wherewithal, the bowling attack is surely hamstrung by the absence of India’s premiere bowler – both in sub-continental and pace-conducive conditions – over the last two years, Zaheer Khan. As Harsha Bhogle quips this may as well mean that 50% of India’s bowling attack is gone which speaks volumes about Zaheer’s role as India’s bowling vanguard in recent years but also suggests something of the extreme reliance placed on him by skippers. However, indispensability in thought is a crime in life and particularly in team sport and Zak’s absence represents a chance for his replacement(s) to step up to the plate. Even if Indians pick the best squad from the resources they have, picking up 20 wickets in Sri Lanka is going to be a huge challenge especially if Harbhajan Singh and his spin partner do not contribute significantly.

The batting line-up that continues to be one of the most-vaunted batting line-ups in World Cricket too did not give a good account of itself in the preparatory match against the Board President’s XI where the Indians were out-batted and out-bowled. Apart from Gambhir’s solid hit at the top of the order, which proved once again that he is India’s emerging Mr. Consistent in all formats of the game, Yuvraj Singh’s breezy hundred was a positive. Nonetheless, Yuvraj’s inclusion over Pujara who has been in sublime form as evidenced by his exploits for India A in England recently smacks of the same kind of ineptitude that BCCI’s selections generally involve. While it may not be a great idea to read too much into a solitary tour game, the fact that they gave six wickets to Mendis – who menaced them the last time they were there –in the first innings may be a little unsettling for the visitors.    

I do not like to pick verdicts especially before even the first ball has been sent down in a series. But it is clear that it is going to be a battle of two bowling attacks in attritional conditions, one under-par and the other with a lot of potential but which has not seen much of test cricket lately. The bowling attack that performs better is likely to win the series as both batting line-ups are studded with fine players, tons of experience and plenty of runs.  My hunch though is Sri Lanka may just take the series 1-0 or (if all the pitches are result-oriented) perhaps 2-0 or 2-1. As usual since the Indians are at the other end, I hope I am wrong. We will know in four weeks’ time.         

7 comments:

vccric said...

Its fine not to make verdicts before even a single ball has been bowled.But you do say that Sri Lanka are the favourites with the possibility of them winning it.
This has been the dominant feeling for most people,inspired by the loss of Zaheer and Sreesanth to injuries.
But,is it not expecting too less,almost being hopeless,of a team that has reached the no.1 ranking(in ICC's list).Agreed,we have never won test series in Australia,South Africa,and are yet to win one in Sri Lanka since
1993.Still,this team has gone through rigorous games of cricket in the last decade or so,and a bunch of top notch cricketers have played a huge role in taking us to the top of test table,after winning test matches in all the countries,if not series.This is serious improvement on the part of a country whose test record abroad was disgusting in its first six decades at the top level.
Anyhow,it would be interesting to see if ourninexperienced fast bowling attack can distinguish itself in the series,what with people all over pouncing on our fast bowlers, inability to pick wickets,though in the shorter formats,on tracks that can be called a shame to the game.Also,interesting would be to see whether our famed batting line-up can impose itself,unlike the last time we toured the island,and score big runs.I,for one,believe,they have to prove their mettle against the Sri Lankan attack,so that they need not have to carry that name of not being able to play some Mendis.This,because these batsmen do not deserve that after what they have done to the game in our country.
I would have liked to see Pujara in the place of Raina,whom I have never been able to fathom as a test batsman.Yuvraj can be discussed after this series.
Any failure on the part of our batsmen will be damning to our top slot in the test table.
If this doesnt make the series interesting despit it being India-Sri Lanka,then those who think so are no real cricket followers,but rather of the type that gets excited at the prospect of a non-sensical T20 game,which is quite similar to that popular and mostly overhyped game called 'Football'.

vEnKy said...

@Vccric:
You are missing the point

IND Vs SL have been done to death. They play so often that our players would build a house there. The amount of cricket played against SL is insane.

If the Practice game is anything to go our bowling attack rather bowling defense is toothless.

This could easily be a series were the fastest bowler bowls 136KPH and Sl commentators would say "He ees queeck"

There has been too much blah about Tests being pinnacle. There is no reason to believe that tracks wont be flat for test too. IND vs SL test are one of the most boring affairs you would see. This has nothing to do with people "real" cricket fans or not.

And one more thing, "Football" is no where being over hyped. Its far more interesting. And so is T20 whether you accept or not.

From a player's perspective Tests may be interesting certainly when played conditions like our doesn't make for great viewer ship.

I dont know what you saw of Pujara. He hasnt played any Internationals. On the other hand Raina has been playing for a while. If you dont give the guy a chance even after he has played a handful of International games, then GOD forbid he would never be given a chance. If you go by Pujara's record yes he has scored 300's but the state of the pitches? Quality of bowler? It is quite natural that Raina is given a nod due to his experience. Of course whether he performs will ultimately known only after the series.

Uncle Srini said...

Venky,

Thanks for partly responding to vccric's comment. I have my own points to add as well.

Vccric,

Firstly, yes I did point out that I do not like to pick verdicts. But the score line I have suggested is merely my 'opinion' given the context. Anyway, may be I should not have said that after indicating I do not like to predict series before it begins.

Second, the scoreline I am expecting has nothing to do with Zaheer's absence per se. And I cannot really say it is my expectation and even if it is I believe I am adequately justified. We are the world no. 1 no doubt but - at least in my mind and that of many other experts on the game of which I am not one - I really think the no.1 status is also a result of some inexplicable ICC-ranking system. You may ask me: am I not happy as a cricket fan that India is on top? I AM, I very much am. Nor do I dispute the fact that this Indian team has done a lot over the previous decade: the following link will take you to a celebratory post I wrote when India got No.1 status for the first time: http://transient-lines.blogspot.com/2009/12/i-know-every-cricket-fan-has-read-about.html However, the point remains do we befit the tag? No, not until (at least) we have beaten the three teams I have mentioned in their backyards. And I am not concocting new criteria. The great Australian teams under Steve Waugh and Ponting beat all teams home and away, to me that is the real meaning of supremacy. Let us not confuse patriotism for pragmatism therefore.
Yuvraj can be discussed after the series? But why? The man has been hardly fit, been recently dropped from the limited overs squad (where at least he has a better chance to regain form) and now we pick him for a tough duel? Even if Yuvi scores a couple of scorching hundreds here, I would like to see him score runs when the ball darts or bounces around: I think he is a class act, easy on the eye and one of the most prodigiously talented left-handers in the game but his technique and temperament leave a lot to be desired as far as test cricket goes. As for Raina, I sort of agree and disagree with Venky: I agree to the extent that experience would have been a criterion in choosing him over Pujara, but disagree with him in that I, like you, would have liked to see Pujara in still... because I am a man who likes to see young guys drafted in against good teams first-up not minnows. And that reminds me why not Rohit Sharma?
Finally, coming to football, I think each game has a charm of its own. I am not a follower of football at all, the only things I know about the recently concluded FIFA WC being Octopus Paul and Spain’s taking the trophy home. It is a fast game and a crowd-puller, one cannot deny that, so it T20. This does not mean I am impugning the status of test cricket. In fact, I would like to pick bones with my friend who Venky who as I know is someone who thinks “blah” – as he has pointed out too – about test cricket as being the pinnacle. It IS the pinnacle and those who have played the game say as much, so there are no two opinions on that. However, Venky IS right in indicating that sport – which is a competition for the entertainment industry in our times –is also about viewership and when it comes to viewership test cricket from anywhere round the glove is dispreferred. Particularly if the series are being played in the sub-continent, then the abject batsman-sidedness of the game sometimes irritates even a test cricket lover like me. Finally, I believe the hype has to do with the way media frame their reports of games rather than the games themselves which is why an IPL gets more coverage than Ashes. But each game and format has its own place and must be respected.

Uncle Srini said...

as a light-hearted aside: I am reminded of what the great George Bernard Shaw said about cricket. I am sure a football-hater can say something similar about soccer! I guess it all comes down to personal opinions and perspectives; as Venky would know (and I am sure hate! :D) certain terrains have no right or wrong :)

vEnKy said...

@ Srini
"would have liked to see Pujara in still... because I am a man who likes to see young guys drafted in against good teams first-up not minnows. "

Raina is not actually old he is young too. He is 24.

vccric said...

I havent called India the undisputed champions of test cricket.As I said,they are the no.1 ranked team by the ICC.This includes every series a country plays and takes into account every match that is played.So obviously,call it flawed or whatever,you should accept the system,despite us not winning a series in Australia,South Africa,Sri Lanka(in 17 years).I completely agree with you that a team which wins test series against all opponents,home and away,is the best.It is also true that if the no.1 ranking team remains so for over a period of about 6 to 7 yrs,then they would have played all teams home and away,and their position would be justified.
The way our selection panel seems to be working,suggests to me,at least,that,they rather eliminate the unsuitable players than select the suitable ones.I used to take their selection very seriously for quite some time,but then realised their way of thinking,which is flawed.So,if Yuvraj or Raina or whoever is seen on the horizon,is not fit to be in the test team,then let them get eliminated,if that is the way our selection works.We are just sitting ducks.They bring in guys,of all sorts,in batting,bowling,wicket-keeping,everyone who seems to do well,be it in an international or a domestic match,see if they are good,for one or two games,which does not necessarily indicate the true ability of a player,it could as well be that he is not yet ready,then if they dont like him,drop him.Well,this is how they work.At least they are consistent at it.

Uncle Srini said...

@Venky

clever, naughty boy! :D you know exACTLY the kind of distinction I was trying to make, don't you? ;) :D

@vccric

you're right about the selection committee - at least they are being consistent in what they do (and I am not sure if we as cricket fans should be sad or happy about it).

I have some clarifications: I did not say you called India undisputed champions. I was merely quoting my own opinion of what India needs to do to be considered to - beat teams in their backyards. I know this may in different cases take different time lines but success is about longevity and consistency against all teams - that's all I have to say. As for the ICC rankings, it DOES take into account every match played (and is probably the most sensible ranking we have in the market) but what if some team does not play test cricket at all during a year and therefore loses ranking by default? That is where I believe sensitised and sensible scheduling of matches should be under the jurisdiction of individual boards AND the ICC. Sangakkara and Jeyawardena have wonderful thoughts on how little they get to play test cricket, especially against the great teams - Jeya in a recent cricinfo article says that he has not played at SCG, MCG or the WACA. It is a shame and Sri Lanka are not minnows. The Future Tours Programme should be adhered to, then the ranking will have some soundness. Plus I do believe that India's no.1 status is as much Australia's slump from there: it is not like we "wrested" it from them. Of course, I do not for a moment claim that it is all "fluke"; all that I am saying is we have miles to go. And with Tendulkar and Dravid set to go (in two seasons max perhaps?) interesting and intriguing times ahead for Indian cricket! :)