Colombo: India will seek to clinch their first series win on Sri Lankan soil in 22 years as they go into the third and final cricket Test against the hosts in Colombo on Friday in what promises to be a thrilling duel between the two young teams.
Virat Kohli managed to register his first Test victory as captain after India humbled the hosts by 278 runs in the series-levelling win at the P Sara Oval and the new leader stands at the cusp of claiming his maiden rubber as well.
Mohammad Azharuddin had last led an Indian team to a Test series win here on Lankan turf, back in 1993, with a 1-0 margin.
Kohli’s five-bowler strategy has paid rich dividends, albeit with different results. From three spinners in Galle and dropping Harbhajan Singh for Stuart Binny in Colombo, they have managed to pick all 40 Lankan wickets on offer. It has been a horses-for-courses policy thus far, and it has worked well.
Riding on Ravichandran Ashwin’s terrific form with the ball (17 wickets in 4 innings), the visitors have managed to dominate almost eight out of the nine days of cricket played so far in the two matches.
Ashwin, who bagged a five-wicket haul to help India skittle out Lanka for 134 to win the previous game, has combined well with Amit Mishra, who has picked 12 wickets in the series so far to spin Lankan woes.
The team management recognised that Ashwin and Mishra were proving quite a handful for the Lankan batsmen, and were ably supported by Ishant Sharma (and Umesh Yadav in the second Test) in the pace department.
As such they only needed reinforcements in the guise of a fifth bowler, and Binny was summoned for the second game. It is easy to assume that the Indian attack will bear the same look at the SSC as it did at the Oval.
There has been some re-arrangement of the batting line-up too. Through some chance, Ajinkya Rahane has moved to number three and Rohit Sharma, after a failed experiment in three Tests, is now slotted at number five. With the five-bowler theory in effect, there is no place for Cheteshwar Pujara in this line-up, not as a specialist middle-order batsman anyway.
Instead, due to injuries sustained by Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan, Pujara is now slated to open the innings with Lokesh Rahul at the SSC. Unless some cruel fate transpires to rob him of this chance as well, this Test will perhaps define the Saurashtra batsman’s standing in this squad.