india-vs-srilanka-1st-test-preview

India and Sri Lanka play the first of their three Tests at Galle starting August 12. India’s last overseas Test win came only at Lord’s in 2014, and under the aggressive new leadership of Virat Kohli, India will look to finally set the record straight. Given that their last series win in Sri Lanka came 22 years ago, there will be an added incentive for India. Sri Lanka, meanwhile, have been in poor form, losing badly to Pakistan less than a month ago. They will be bolstered by the presence of Kumar Sangakkara, and will want to ensure that he gets the successful farewell he deserves. READ: India’s likely XI for 1st Test vs Sri Lanka at Galle

India’s young Test side has come together quite well despite a lack of results recently. Murali Vijay has been solid at the top, and his injury will be a huge blow to India. That said, KL Rahul scored a century in his last Test and looked especially well in the practice match so India do have a like-for-like replacement. Shikhar Dhawan too has been in great form, and he will look to finally put to an end the doubts surrounding his presence in Tests. But if he fails and Rahul succeeds, it could pose an interesting question for India’s opening position in the second Test. READ: India will not miss Murali Vijay in 1st vs Sri Lanka, KL Rahul apt replacement

With Rohit Sharma confirmed to bat at No. 3 for India, he has the chance to vindicate Kohli’s faith in him. Given India’s track record of backing Rohit, it is likely that even if he fails he will retain his No. 3 slot till the end of the series. Kohli himself has been short of runs this year, despite having a phenomenal series in Australia in 2014-15. He will want to go back to scoring consistent runs.READ: Virat Kohli’s trial by fire as Test captain begins with tour of Sri Lanka

Ajinkya Rahane has been India’s most versatile Test batsman since the South African tour of 2013-14, and was India’s lone centurion in the warm-up game against Sri Lanka Cricket Board President’s XI. His form will be crucial for India in this series. Cheteshwar Pujara is highly unlikely to play but if by some chance he does get a game, he will probably have to bat at the unfamiliar No. 6 position. Wriddhiman Saha will mostly bat there instead, and here lies Sri Lanka’s best chance to beat India. If they can get two or three early wickets, India simply do not have the depth to rescue themselves. READ: Is Rohit Sharma the right choice at No. 3 for India in Test cricket?

That being said, Sri Lanka have batting woes of their own to contend with. Remove Sangakkara and Angelo Mathews, and the batting looks pedestrian at best. Kaushal Silva and Dimuth Karunaratne are proficient at the top of the order, but neither of them has been consistent enough to be considered serious threats. Lahiru Thirimanne has been a batsman to watch out for since his debut, but he has done little worth watching in Tests so far. Dinesh Chandimal seems to be moving toward the kind of consistency that will make him a dangerous player, but he is not there yet. READ: Stats analysis of Indian batsmen in Sri Lanka

Upul Tharanga and Jehan Mubarak are on a comeback trail and have to still battle for their own spots in the side. Kusal Perera is the one wild card that Sri Lanka have up their sleeve. He showed against Pakistan in the One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and T20Is that he can take apart anyone on his day, and the hosts will be tempted to test him out against India. READ: Indian captains and their Test cricket records in Sri Lanka

Moving onto the bowling, neither side has an obvious advantage over the other. Ishant Sharma was unplayable in the warm-up match, and he has been India’s best Test pace bowler for some time now. Ravichandran Ashwin has bowled beautifully for the last year or so as well, and will likely be India’s trump card in Sri Lanka. The duo will be backed up by the likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Harbhajan Singh. READ: 5 memorable India vs Sri Lanka Tests

For Sri Lanka, Dhammika Prasad has been excellent recently, and has been backed up well by Nuwan Pradeep. Newcomer Vishwa Fernando is more or less an unknown element. However, what will bother Sri Lanka the most is the form of their stalwart, Rangana Herath. Dilruwan Perera and Tharindu Kaushal have both looked impressive of late, but without Herath the Sri Lankan attack lacks the venom that made them such a dangerous side, especially at home. His career is at its climax as well, and the inevitable announcement of a retirement could be hastened with another bad series. READ: Rangana Herath must bounce back against India for Sri Lanka’s benefit

On the whole, the match is too tough to call. India looks the better team on paper, but Sri Lanka are playing in home conditions, something that can never be discounted. One feels that whichever team can master batting in Galle will emerge victorious.  READ: Kumar Sangakkara versus India

Squads:

Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews (c), Dinesh Chandimal (wk), Kumar Sangakkara, Lahiru Thirimanne, Kaushal Silva, Dimuth Karunaratne, Upul Tharanga, Jehan Mubarak, Kusal Perera, Rangana Herath, Dilruwan Perera, Tharindu Kaushal, Nuwan Pradeep, Dhammika Prasad, Vishwa Fernando, Dushmantha Chameera.

India: Virat Kohli (c), Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Harbhajan Singh, Ravichandran Ashwin, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Varun Aaron, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Amit Mishra, Murali Vijay (ruled out of first Test).

Time: 10:00 IST | 4:30 GMT

(Shiamak Unwalla, a reporter with CricketCountry, is a self-confessed Sci-Fi geek who loves cricket more than cricketers. His Twitter handle is @ShiamakUnwalla)