It will be all about pride for Sri Lanka as they take the field on Saturday in Delhi. The way they lost the second Test match in Nagpur must have shattered them from inside. Such is the nature of the game that it repeatedly throws challenges at you and if you desire to be among the top 6-7 Test cricket-playing nations, you have to be at the top of your game.
India, on the contrary, can seemingly do nothing wrong these days. The Indian team, which is comfortably poised to win the series, may look to make a few changes to its side.
Before starting our struggle for the team selection, let us quickly take a glance at the state of the pitch that awaits us in Delhi. Though the pitch at the Feroz Shah Kotla will not be as lively as it was in Kolkata, it certainly has a thin covering of grass over it.
In the recent years, keeping slow and low has become the second nature of the Kotla pitch – but with winter setting in and a tinge of green on the pitch, it may assist the seamers on the first day of the match.
“It has ample grass cover, it’s December, and there will be something in it for the fast bowlers. Ankit (the DDCA curator) has done a commendable job in preparing this track,” said Daljit Singh, BCCI’s chief curator.
As the match progresses and the sun beats on the surface, it will lead to wear and tear – with the grass cover serving to merely hold the pitch together. From day three, the spinners will certainly fancy their chances on the Delhi pitch.
With everyone firing on all cylinders when presented with an opportunity, it has created a terrible fix for Virat and the team management. From where we stand at this moment, only three out of Rohit Sharma, Kuldeep Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav are likely to make the playing XI at the iconic Feroz Shah Kotla stadium.
First and foremost, the team combination will depend on whether India goes with five specialist batsmen or six. If India plays Rohit Sharma on the back of his century in Nagpur (which seems likely ahead of the South Africa tour), Umesh will have to sit out.
After scoring a free-flowing 94-run knock in the second innings at Eden Gardens, Dhawan opted out of the second match due to his sister’s marriage. Vijay, who was long waiting on the sidelines to prove his mettle once again, got a game and grabbed his opportunity with both hands.
Now, with Dhawan available for the third Test, it is unlikely that he gets a game in Delhi, except in the place of KL Rahul. However, dropping the Karnataka batsman will also not be easy as he has been on a streak of seven half-centuries recently. After a rare failure, he again got back on track with 73 runs in the second innings in Kolkata.
Undoubtedly, Shikhar’s brand of cricket brings an ‘X factor’, as he has the potential to flip the game inside out within a session. The only impediment in his selection would be his vulnerability against the swinging ball.
Keeping the upcoming South Africa tour in mind, India’s best bet seems to be Vijay and Rahul, as both have sound technique and play close to the body. It will be harsh on Dhawan, but that is what the sport is all about.
Having recovered from his niggle, Shami will unarguably make his way back in the playing XI. With Bhuvneshwar Kumar unavailable due to his recently-concluded marriage, Ishant Sharma has staked his claim to be the second pacer over Umesh Yadav.
The lanky pacer made the ball talk during his terrific spells at Nagpur. The zip in his deliveries was back as he troubled the Lankan batsmen, and ended with match figures of five wickets for 80 runs. Umesh, on the other hand, has struggled with his control in the Test matches in Kolkata and Nagpur, and will probably have to make way for Ishant.
In case Rohit plays, India will, in all probability, go with their regular spinners, Ashwin and Jadeja, as they give them a cushion with the bat as well. On the other hand, if India decides to experiment, Kuldeep Yadav may play the game on Saturday. As we are looking at the third Test in terms of India’s preparation for the upcoming South Africa tour, Kuldeep getting a game is well-warranted.
Being a wrist spinner, Kuldeep is likely to prove more effective that a finger spinner like Ashwin or Jadeja who are often heavily dependent on the pitch for his balls to grip. Keeping the South Africa tour in mind, where the pitches are likely to suit the pacers, Kuldeep may provide an edge over orthodox spinners. So keeping him match-fit and in the loop for the January tour is not a bad idea at all.
Sri Lanka’s troubles seem to be going from bad to worse, as the seasoned left-arm spinner Rangana Herath has been ruled out from the Delhi Test match due to a back injury. He has already flown back to Sri Lanka. Young leg spinner, Jeffrey Vandersay, has been named as his replacement.
However, Vandersay may have to wait a little longer for his Test debut as left-arm wrist spinner Lakshan Sandakan is already in the squad, waiting to be picked. He is likely to get a game.
Lahiru Thirimanne, who comes in at number three, is likely to be axed from the team following his poor shot-selection in the Nagpur test. Thirimanne, who has been in and out of the team, had scored a half century in the first match in Kolkata, but failed to get going in both innings at Nagpur.
What was more questionable was his temperament and the way he gifted his wicket to the opposition. With Sri Lanka looking for stability from its number three, Lankan batsman Dhananjaya de Silva is likely to take Thirimanne’s place following a good tour of West Indies with the Sri Lanka ‘A’ team.
In the pace-bowling department, Lahiru Gamage, who has failed to impress in the last two Test matches due to his inconsistent line and length, may make way for pacer Vishwa Fernando.
With news coming in that Thisara Perera has been named Sri Lanka’s captain for the ODI series following the Test series, the Lankan team also lacks stability at the moment. Too much chopping and changing not only unsettles the team but also affects the confidence of the players adversely.
Dinesh Chandimal certainly has his task cut out to inspire his boys. On the other hand, Virat’s leadership and the positive impact he has had on the team stands in stark contrast to the Lankans.
Sri Lanka has been, beyond doubt, a world-class team over the years. If they want to retrieve their glory, they have to punch above their weight – otherwise, another one-sided rubber is pretty much on the cards at Feroz Shah Kotla.
A version of this article was first published here.
Likely Indian XI: Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli(c), Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Ravichandran Ashwin, Wriddhiman Saha(wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma
Likely Sri Lanka XI: Sadeera Samarawickrama, Dimuth Karunaratne, Dhananjaya de Silva, Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal(c), Niroshan Dickwella(wk), Dasun Shanaka, Dilruwan Perera, Lakshan Sandakan, Vishwa Fernando, Suranga Lakmal
Featured image used for representative purposes only.