There will be – at least physically – two teams taking the field in Delhi for the deciding match of a Test series. But their minds are busy peering into the future. India are obsessed with events that will take place in January while Sri Lanka are looking further ahead, willing the mists to clear and reveal a time in which they aren’t being bullied. An innings and 239 runs isn’t so much a margin of defeat as a brand across their faces.
Fire, though, is where iron can be forged and the interim coach Nic Pothas is of the belief that these experiences can, in the long term, be helpful. Like how losing the Galle Test in 2015 shook India up. In the time since, they have won 21 out of 28 Tests and their dominance in many of them was barely even up for debate. That boils down to bench strength. It is the advantage Virat Kohli has and the luxury Dinesh Chandimal craves.
Makes sense then that Sri Lanka would lose their best bowler at a time everything is on the line, isn’t it? Rangana Herath has been sidelined with a back injury and there is every possibility that Lakshan Sandakan might be asked to replace him. Herath, the fingerspinner, has had no impact this series – average 115 – so a wristspinner might not be the worst plan against a batting line-up that goes into each Test hungry to make big runs. India’s top four have provided four centuries this series, including a double, whereas no one from the visitors has gone past 67. There are vast gaps between the two teams. And unless the Sri Lankans show they can bridge it, they may well lead the brigade that harrumphs there is too much cricket being played between these two sides.
(last five completed matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka: LDWWL
In the spotlight
Three ducks in five first-class innings is not normally a sequence of events Ajinkya Rahane has had to go through. He is yet to get past single-digits in this series, heightening the divide between his home and away form. Now, there is little doubt over the quality he possesses – remember Lord’s. Nor is there question over his will to fight – remember Indore. But considering his status as one of the first names India put down in a Test XI, both he and the team management would prefer he find some form before leaving for South Africa.
Speaking of unusual experiences, Herath wouldn’t have thought he would have only one wicket to show for nearly 50 overs’ work. He is steady. His traps are subtle. But India have avoided them without breaking a sweat and in light of that, it may not be such a bad thing to bring in a bit of a wildcard. Like Lakshan Sandakan. The 26-year old left-arm wristspinner took a five-for in Pallekele; included in that bag were the wickets of Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara. Not bad for the second spinner.
India’s combination remains a mystery. Among the openers, Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul were involved in slip-fielding practice and M Vijay came out for the press conference. And would they really drop Rohit Sharma soon after he had scored a cathartic Test century?
1 M Vijay, 2 Shikhar Dhawan/KL Rahul, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli (capt), 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Rohit Sharma, 7 R Ashwin, 8 Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 9 Ravindra Jadeja, 10 Ishant Sharma/Mohammed Shami, 11 Umesh Yadav
Batting failures in both innings on a more-or-less traditional subcontinent pitch in Nagpur suggests Sri Lanka need to consider adding Dhananjaya de Silva and perhaps even the uncapped Roshen Silva in their XI.
1 Dimuth Karunaratne, 2 Sadeera Samarawickrama, 3 Dhananjaya de Silva 4 Angelo Mathews, 5 Dinesh Chandimal (capt), 6 Niroshan Dickwella (wk) 7 Roshen Silva/Vishwa Fernando, 8 Dilruwan Perera, 9 Lakshan Sandakan, 10 Suranga Lakmal, 11 Lahiru Gamage
Pitch and conditions
The pitch looks green but Chandimal said it was closer to Nagpur than Kolkata. Nothing extraordinary about it. Weather is clear but light could fade early and be a factor
Stats and trivia
India have not lost a Test match at Feroz Shah Kolta for 30 years. The last team to beat them here was the Viv Richards-led West Indies in November 1987.
Dimuth Karunaratne is one of three batsmen to aggregate 1000 runs in 2017. The others are Pujara and Dean Elgar
“Of course that’s what as a team we are looking at. We have never won a Test match here. Still I have hope that we can win this game but as a team we need to do well on that day. We can do that definitely. We can compete with the Indians. That’s what we are looking forward to.”
Dinesh Chandimal, when asked if he believes if Sri Lanka can come back
“It has grass obviously. That has been the whole point, through the whole series it has been the pattern. Hopefully the wicket plays good, and we get a good experience before the south Africa tour.”
M Vijay reiterates India are as concerned about South Africa as they are about Sri Lanka