We have frequently discussed India’s emergence as a top Test team over the years, caused by many factors such as good utilisation of young talent, good captaincy and good team morale. Sri Lanka has also recently started playing competitive cricket at the highest level. Their recent successes are accredited to Jayawardene’s mature captaincy, batting form of main batsmen Sangakkara, Jayawardene and Jayasuria and the advent of awe inspiring talent in players like Malinga and Mendis. Pakistan, which was once a top team in Test cricket, is no longer considered a giant in Asia. Most people will agree what happened to India in the 1st Test was merely a wake up call and India fought back hard with a well deserved victory in the 2nd Test, although it was a fairly competitive match.
Recent contests between India and Sri Lanka have demonstrated why so much interest is generated when both these sides play. Historically contests between India and Pakistan were meant to draw enormous interest from cricket fans all around the world. However, now Pakistan has been replaced by Sri Lanka. The hype and reputation of India-Sri Lanka games are still not on the same level as Pakistan-India games, but what happens in the games themselves is very exciting and at times, nail biting. The main reason why this has started happening, is because both sides have some qualities which the other side does not have. Yet both teams are very similar in some respects.
India is going by the reputation of its “Big 4”, namely Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and Ganguly. The names of these batsmen spread fear in the minds of even the most fearsome bowlers in the world. Going off statistics no one in the Sri Lankan side is as accomplished as Tendulkar and Dravid; however, Jayawardene and Sangakkara are great players in their own right who have the ability to outclass the best bowling attacks. In the bowling department Sri Lanka would appear to have the edge, albeit slightly as currently Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma are bowling better than Vaas or Prasad. Nevertheless, Vaas is very experienced and of course Murali is the most devastating spinner in Test cricket. Mendis is a unique talent whom the Indian batsmen are still trying to fathom.
The interesting aspect to this series has been that openers from both sides have outperformed the main middle order batsmen. No one could expect Gambhir and Sehwag to outscore the likes of Tendulkar and Dravid, yet both Indian openers have done so convincingly. From Sri Lanka’s point of view, Warnapura has been very level headed and mature- quite a revelation. Samaraweera, the late middle order batsman and by no means as reputable as Jayawardene or Sangakkara, has been Sri Lanka’s main batsman this series, averaging 104 so far.
Owing to a Mendis special India could only manage 249 on the board, which is not a good total on this track. This pitch does have something for everyone but now India will have to bowl out of their skins to restrict Sri Lanka under 300. The way Ishant and Zaheer have been bowling, there is a likelihood Sri Lanka will be dismissed under 300. This will make this match and this series even more exciting for the viewer. It must also be stressed that because this pitch has some assistance for spinners, Harbhajan Singh might prove useful to India’s plans because of his recent resurgence of form.
This series is not over yet, and what we have seen after the 1st day’s play suggests there might be some surprises in store. An indication of how competitive India-Sri Lanka has become is the fact that which direction this Test will go is impossible to predict. We might see Sangakkara, Jayawardene and Samaraweera help their team achieve an enviable total. At the same time it is equally likely Ishant Sharma and Zaheer might destroy the Sri Lankan top order and restrict Sri Lanka to a low score. Whatever happens, currently the idea that Pakistan-India matches are unique in terms of competitiveness is not well founded because of India’s rise and Pakistan’s fall in world cricket. So if you want to see two Asian Test giants battling it out, this is the series you need to watch.