With another win Virat Kohli's India will equal the world record of 9 consecutive series wins     AFP
With another win Virat Kohli’s India will equal the world record of 9 consecutive series wins AFP

It was against Sri Lanka that India’s voyage to the No.1 Test side began. In August 2015, India staged a comeback after losing the first Test. The 1-2 scoreline saw India win a Test series in Sri Lanka after 22 years. Virat Kohli, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Cheteshwar Pujara have been the key architects of the successful voyage to the top. Delhi marks an end to the glorious subcontinent run.

The talks about India’s tour to South Africa have already started, for it is a territory they are yet to conquer. No doubt they will be truly be challenged, given the conditions and quality. Lack of practice matches in South Africa has forced Kohli’s men to create similar conditions in India and adapt to the green-layered wickets. Delhi will be no different.

Apart from the first innings in Kolkata, nothing has gone Sri Lanka’s way in this tour. Rain and bad light helped them defy defeat in Kolkata, but in Nagpur, the visitors were steamrolled. A miracle of sorts can help them level the series, and that will only be achieved with their first Test win in India. But ours is a funny game, and we have seen how a scenario of extreme crisis marks rise of heroes. Sri Lanka will just hope for that. Yes, hope is the key.

Herath crisis for Sri Lanka

They were down in the dumps at Galle, against India, in 2015. Dinesh Chandimal produced a blinder (162*) before Rangana Herath came and polished off the Indians for 112. The target was only 176. In between their poor Test run, they have managed to produce spectacular shows. The 3-0 drubbing of the then No.1 Test side Australia, in 2016, is still fresh in minds. Also, who would have given them a chance against Pakistan at sands of UAE? They beat the odds and breached Pakistan’s fortress (that England, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand couldn’t in recent times) and registered 2-0 victory.

Yes, for all that, they had Herath, a world-class cricketer, capable of rising in adversities. Herath missing out further dampens Sri Lanka’s chances.

“Rangana is a big loss unfortunately as he has got a back injury. We have got Lakshan Sandakan and Jeffrey Vandersay in our line-up. They have a good opportunity to play,” Chandimal told reporters.

The other hope

Heading into the third Test, Sri Lanka can draw solace from the fact that they have not conceded the series yet. Also, they are the only side who live in the present, as India have been majorly looking ahead for the South Africa tour.

Chandimal dismissed the South Africa pitch talks and pointed out that at least Sri Lanka were living in the present.

“If you look at the wicket (in New Delhi), I am not sure that they are preparing for South Africa. The Kolkata wicket looked like a South African wicket but not these two. They are thinking about the next series. We as a team are thinking about this series,” Chandimal added.

Can Sri Lanka catch India off guard?

India’s opening dilemma

Sri Lanka seem to be lacking options, while India are in a position to field multiple international sides. Murali Vijay is in form, so is Shikhar Dhawan, and KL Rahul has been one of the most consistent run-getters. So, which two get to open?

India vs Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, statistical preview: Virat Kohli and his team eye records
India vs Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, statistical preview: Virat Kohli and his team eye records

Vijay dismissed the dilemma, We three are very good friends off the field. So it makes it much easier. Definitely, it is an opener playing in the regular. We three have good rapport off the field. So it definitely helps in the future as well.

Looking at South Africa and the other overseas tours to follow, India will have to invest in one pair and that will be tricky.

The Rahane, Rohit perplexity

Vijay looks almost certain to keep his spot. Dhawan and Rahul, too, can play, provided India drop their vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane, who resembles a super performing on-site employee of an IT firm. Strangely, his affinity to shine overseas has begun to hurt India in home games. His difference in his home and away average is almost 18 (35.64 at home, 53.44 away).

Rohit Sharma’s comeback hundred makes him a certainty. But it was at the same venue where Rahane slammed twin hundreds against South Africa two years back. Rahane is key to India’s chances in the upcoming overseas tours. Can they risk to drop him now?

The worries extend to the bowling department as well. Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin are indispensable at home. If India go ahead with six specialist batters, the possibility of sneaking in the third pacer goes for a toss. Ishant Sharma, too, made a good comeback and Delhi is his home. That beckons another question: will Mohammed Shami replace Umesh Yadav? Whew.

Likely XIs

India’s probable XI: Shikhar Dhawan/KL Rahul, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane/KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma, R Ashwin, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav/Mohammed Shami

Sri Lanka’s probable XI: Dimuth Karunaratne, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Lahiru Thirimanne, Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal (c), Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Dasun Shanaka, Dilruwan Perera, Suranga Lakmal, Lakshan Sandakan Lahiru Gamage/Vishwa Fernando

Conditions

A December morning is bound to be chilly in Delhi, and there will be purchase for the pacers early on. However, it isn’t overcast like it was in Kolkata, so batting will get easier. Sri Lanka were thrashed 0-3 in South Africa in the 2016-17 season, so they know well about the conditions. Chandimal confirmed that the Delhi track does not resemble to the tracks one would usually find in South Africa.

Another series win and India will equal the world record of 9 consecutive Test series wins held by England (1884 to 1891-92) and Australia (2005-06 to 2008).

Squads:

India: Virat Kohli (c), Ajinkya Rahane, M Vijay, KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Vijay Shankar.

Sri Lanka: Dinesh Chandimal (c), Dimuth Karunaratne, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Angelo Mathews, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Lahiru Thirimanne, Dhananjaya de Silva, Suranga Lakmal, Dilruwan Perera, Lahiru Gamage, Vishwa Fernando, Dasun Shanaka, Lakshan Sandakan, Roshen Silva, Jeffrey Vandersay.

Time: 9.30 IST