Monthly Archives: August 2008

Sanding my bat.

This was posted last year on another site. I thought I might reincarnate it quite simply because the cricket season in Australia, at the club level anyway, is just a few weekends away. Like everyone else sick of winter, I cannot wait to pull on the whites!

 

 

After three years’ moderate use, my bat’s blond-white newness was a blotchy, well-marked red, grey and brown.

 

The last batsman I remember playing with an evidently old bat, twine fast around the dents and well reddened outside edge, was David Boon. Everyone thereafter took leg and middle with unblemished implements. Thus the pressure cascaded down, even at club level, to flourish a gleaming Woodworm Torch.

 

There are those at my club, without much by way of mining stocks or mutual funds, who will yet commence each season with a new piece of expensive kit. Much as I persisted with my increasingly dog-eared old trusty, there came the point when a make-over was called for; at the very least to keep up with the Jonesy-s.

 

True to procrastinatory form, four weeks away from the first game of the new season, I finally got around to this pleasant activity on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

 

A bat such as this carries the impress of various strokes, indentations and well-rounded toes. Many were the times I stopped to admire one of several stains. This beauty, in the middle of the sweet spot-was it that unforgettable tippy-toes drive through mid off early in the game against Sydenham-Hillside?

 

Sanding a bat takes patience. Despite what the sander advertisements would have you believe, the dust does not fan out in graceful arcs leaving behind pristine surfaces after one pass. The red lacquer from the ball gets ingrained and needs spot sanding. It boils up and loads the sandpaper. Eventually though, all blemishes disappear, and under progressively finer grades of paper, the willow emerges-whitish and smooth.

 

The first rub of bat oil darkens the surface bringing forth the lovely broad grain’s detail. One begins to appreciate why paeans are written to fine timbers like Huon Pine and Rosewood. A couple of light coats before returning the following weekend.

 

A light, fine sand precedes two more coats of oil. A new white chevron grip, toe-guard, extratec and there, we have a rejuvenated bat!

 

After all this attention, it seems almost criminal to bash a cricket ball with this luminosity.

 

But, it carries promise anew, of the music when a hard new six-stitcher meets its middle, before the ball’s flight, hopefully over the fence.

 

And, perhaps, more runs than before?

Soundar.

 

 

 

 

Lessons for BCCI from Abhinav Bindra

Abhinav Bindra has stuck his neck on the line. India’s first ever individual Gold medallist in the Olympics — yes, he has a blog too and blogs at http://abhinavbindra.blogspot.com/ — has come down heavily on Indian Sports Officialdom on his first assignment as Guest Editor for Times of India!

In his view, the current system is rotten and would not create the transformation that is needed. He said, “Indian athletes have no respect for most officials,” he said. “They have to be on good terms because one needs to survive. But most officials, and many of the so-called coaches who travel with the shooting team, know nothing about the sport. The athletes don’t talk about this because their careers are at stake. And the officials unfortunately don’t care.”

A lot of what he says is actually quite applicable to cricket administration too. For example, he says “the current official set-up should be replaced with a professional body for each sport, headed by a CEO, who would be given targets. In other words, accountability could ensure brighter results.

This is not rocket science. We have known for some time now that there is a champagne bottle waiting to burst in India. However, the cork is quite strong and is steadfast in its bureaucratic might as well as its cancer-like refusal to go.

And today, as opposed to the call in Mahesh’s post and Soundar’s comments, seeking a further liberalisation of the control-strings, the BCCI has, quite predictably, run in the other direction! They appear to have tightened their control.

From now on, the BCCI President will have the power to have a final say in the appointment of selectors.

The BCCI communiqué reads: “The age old system of the zonal representatives holding meetings on the eve of the Board’s AGM to decide the name of selector from their respective zones has been done away with. From the coming AGM, the final decision on the appointment of national selectors will wrest [sic!] with the BCCI president,”.

Wrest? or rest? 🙂

Hmmm! It does seem to me to be a bit of a wrestling match, this one!

On the surface, this may not be such a bad move, for all the zonal representatives can do from now on in, is suggest names with the ultimate decision resting (or wresting, if one was the BCCI!) with the President of the BCCI. However, with votes at stake, I can’t quite imagine the BCCI President doing much more than sucking up to the zones!

Time to reiterate that the fact that the cricket team is doing so well, despite the administration’s attempts, is something that needs to be recognised and commended. Not every sport in India is that lucky!

— Mohan

I am back

I never actually left, but I haven’t blogged in i3j3 for a long time and thought I’d break the silence with a post today. So, what’s been happening in Indian cricket lately?

India won the ODI series in SL

After a horrid start to the series, India made a good comeback to beat SL in SL – a big achievement, really. They’ve never done this in the past and the credit should go solely to MS Dhoni. After the pathetic performance in the tests and the 1st ODI, I had (like many others) written this side off, and somehow they managed to pull through to win the series. Well done, guys.

The Champions Trophy got postponed

I am usually glued to the idiot box when the Champions Trophy is on, but that doesn’t mean I fully approve of this tournament. It is kind of like a World cup, but isn’t. It doesn’t have the importance or stature of the World Cup and International Cricket could well do without this tournament in its already packed schedule. ICC could get rid of tournaments like this and the Afro-Asia cup and nobody would miss them.

India not playing any tournaments during the Champions Trophy gap

What the …? This came as a surprise to me – I am really glad BCCI didn’t sign up for a quadrangular or triangular or some x-angular tournament to fill up the gap created by the postponement of the Champions Trophy. They apparently want to use the time to prepare for the upcoming Australian Test series. What the…?

Cramped Tour Itinerary for NZ tour announced

Yes. That sounds like the BCCI we have all come to know and love. For a very brief moment I thought BCCI was actually changing the way they think. Oh, well –  back to reality, now.

India are going to be playing 19 days of cricket in 33 days. The longest gap they get between any two matches will be 2 days. Yep, that’s right – 2 days. Unless, of course we finish the 5 day test matches in 3 days…Going by what happened in NZ in the previous series, we are sadly quite capable of doing that.

Indian selectors to be made paid positions

We have advocated this in this blog in the past, and I am very happy that the BCCI has decided the positions in the Selection committee are to be made paid positions. Ok, they are only recommendations made by the working committee at this stage, but I would expect this to be accepted soon. Now they will have more accountability and responsibility.

Next step – getting selectors from overseas. Oh wait, What am I am thinking? They first have to move away from the mentality of appointing one selector from each zone…

-Mahesh-

Now it is official…

Tony Greig in an interview posted on the Cricketnext website has spelt out something that most of us long suffering fans of Indian Cricket have known.

‘Indians don’t retire, they’re kicked out’

Read the full transcript

 

The Black Irishman

We now tune in to… The Future of Indian Cricket

This article was submitted by CWO.

What is it about the Indian cricket that compels its fans to frantically call upon the heads of the players? It all starts with the team the selectors put on the field. The selectors are above all when it comes to Indian Cricket, their focus on a goal or the lack of that focus is what drives Indian cricket. The fans will do what the can to try and push the selectors for some answers, but they will receive none. Indian cricket is headed in a direction, right or wrong, we don’t know for sure. What we do know is at this time we have a team that was selected with some controversy, we have an ODI series on our hands and our focus must be on that. We will look into the selectors after we discuss some of their selections.

The Indian team started its ODI series with a warm up match against the Sri Lankan XI and the story of the day was Yuvraj Singh’s 172 at the strike rate of 142.14. It may be a bit premature, but what does this mean for the upcoming ODIs? Will Yuvraj Singh be the catalyst for the Indian middle order in the series? The Test series was a loss due to the Indian middle order. The seniors failed to perform at numerous occasions; and the only victory we got was hugely credited to Virender Sehwag’s double century. The Indian middle order in the final at Asia cup also failed to perform with the exception of M.S. Dhoni’s 49. So one begs to question, do these selections mean anything for the future?

The truth is that these do mean something. The first meaning is the strong statement made by Yuvraj Singh, He is here to play and prove his worth to the selectors. He was not selected for the Test series and that must have hurt him and the selectors must have seen how he has played poorly against the world class spinners of Sri Lanka and that had set enough doubt in the selector’s minds to pull Yuvraj Singh from the Test series. They now give him a chance in the ODIs and now he must show everyone that he has not lost his touch and can continue to produce match winning performances for India.

The problem for India has been the youth, but it has also has its rewards. For now the focus is on the ODI series and it is imperative that the young Indian middle order practice against Pragyan Ojha and Harbhajan Singh as much as possible in the nets. It may not be the same class of spinning as Ajantha Mendis or Mutthaiah Muralitharan, but it will be more than practicing against a bowling machine. The selectors have put much faith in these young middle order players. One of the questions that have bothered Indian fans for a while now is the fact that India has always been a powerhouse of spin bowling as has the rest of the subcontinent; so how is it possible that the selectors can not find the right batsmen and train them to be near perfect playing spin bowling? There may not be a clear cut answer to that question, but that is just one of the questions that have never been answered.

There are however, many questions that will be answered in the next few weeks. How good is M.S. Dhoni as a captain? How well will the bowling attack perform? Along with the questions of how well the current selection panel is performing. Since the switch to the younger teams India stand at two series win out of the possible six. This does not bode well for the selectors, and BCCI shall hold them responsible if India falters to Sri Lanka in yet another series. Although this may just be a stepping stone and there may be a very logical reason for the current selections, the selectors need to come out and speak to the media and the fans of Indian Cricket more clearly.

While the focus will be how India must win this series; the selectors must prepare India for the 2011 Cricket World Cup, and not just put another team on the field for the next game. They have to train kids to grow up and be men. They have to be holding their selectors more responsible and improve the infrastructure of cricket in India. They have a decent domestic season, but they need to realize talent early and hone their skills. Bring them up to give India a chance at winning the next Cricket World Cup.

As bad as the current situation is right now, the youth is our future, and we must call upon the youth to lead us to a championship. The selectors may be under scrutiny if we lose yet another series, if they are not already; but they must stay focused to bring India the pride and honour its fans rightfully deserve.

– CWO

Silver Lining…

India’s loss to Sri Lanka in the Test series, with the Flab Four indulging in a “rabbits in headlights” muddle through, resulted in a silver-lining for a perpetual recent bridesmaid of Indian cricket. Thanks to Sachin Tendulkar injuring himself in the 3rd Test, Badrinath got a call-up as his replacement for the ODIs.

Earlier, Badrinath had spoken out fiercely for the first time on being overlooked yet again. The appalling aspect of his initial non-selection was that none of the selectors bothered talking to him about where he actually stood and whether or not he was at all in the frame. Surely, this is not the way to go about team selection! If selection is all about putting a team on the park for the next game, any dill would do!

Badrinath said earlier, “I’m lost, I don’t know where to go from here. None of the selectors have ever told me where I actually stand. I would love to know where I am lacking so that I can work on that.”

Worse still, after being “over taken” first by Rohit Sharma and then by Manoj Tiwary, the last straw for him was when he was over-taken by Virat Kohli.

When asked, Bupinder Singh Sr, one of the selectors, said that selection matters were confidential — so much for transparency!

Anyway, Team India’s Test Series loss, and Sachin Tendulkar’s injury meant a silver lining amidst a dark cloud.

Subsequent to this loss, I can’t imagine that a “do nothing strategy” will work for the selectors. It has worked quite elegantly for India up until now. There will be shrill calls for team change — often the only way change really happens in India!

Effigy makers are already rubbing their hands in glee as they hear their cash registers ring! I guess that’s the only way change is possible in Indian cricket! Sigh!

After all… When a “Why fix it, unless it is totally and irreparably broken?” mantra is the over-riding philosophy, what’s the point of a strategic plan? Crisis Management is the name of the game. Always.

Anil Kumble has been horribly unlucky with the “Review” system in the Test Series against Sri Lanka. He is bound to head back home dejected and disappointed not merely because of his misfortune with the “review” system! But because he has a far more important “Review” on his hands as he heads back to Bangalore to cool his heels. He would need to carry out a fearless and frank “Review” of Indian cricket’s strategic road-map. One is needed desperately and neither the BCCI nor the selectors have shown either the wherewithal or the interest or the courage to carry it out. It has to be up to Anil Kumble. He needs to “Review” Indian cricket and where it is headed in the next 5 years, which, despite the doomsday-ness of my postulation, is in desperate need for a large dose of courage.

Currently, when it comes to a strategic roadmap for Indian cricket, Anil Kumble has the luxury — another silver lining perhaps? — of having a blank piece of paper to work with. The people charged with this responsibility seem to have their hands only on confidentiality clauses and, of course, the cash register! That lot and the effigy-makers are making the money while Indian cricket suffers!

Meanwhile, more meaningless ODI cricket awaits us. A few wins there will make us forget this tragic loss, which, one hopes, will not be brushed under tattered and listless carpets.

— Mohan

Flab Four about to hand over series to Sri Lanka

This may be a headline that is written too soon — and I agree that it is the person who lives dangerously that writes off a Dravid-Laxman-led revival. However, I would be most surprised if India wins this Test match from here. India go into day-4 just 14 runs ahead and with most of their recognised batsmen back in the hut. Dravid and a limping-Laxman would perhaps need to live in Harry-Porter-Land to pull this one off.

Harbhajan Singh is looking for a miracle from Dravid and Laxman! He said, at the conclusion of the 3rd days’ play, “We are looking to have good partnership in the morning. I hope Laxman and Dravid play what they played in Kolkata (in 2001) and put us in a good situation. And from there if we win the game it will be a great win for Indian cricket.” He then went on to have a dig at the batsmen, when he said, “Obviously, it is a little disappointment that as a batting unit we did not perform what we should actually have. These are the guys who have won games for India. It is just a matter of not clicking perhaps.”

The peach, however, was when he attributed Ajanta Mendis’s phenomenal rise to luck! “I wish I could pick his luck, the wicket taking luck. We all bowl the same sort of delivery. Obviously he is new in international cricket. The more the people play him the more they will get to see him. More people will learn about him. Obviously he got some variation and every ball have variations. Basically I would like to steal his luck. Wicket taking luck!”

Hmmm! That explains a lot then! Harbhajan Singh puts down his own miserable run with the ball to lack of luck! It is not about bowling tripe. It is not about the miserable fielding that the Indians have displayed in this series. It is about wicket-taking luck!

For the state that Team India finds herself in, one can blame the fielding — and it has been bad. But then, one could mount an argument that it has always been bad! So, whats’ new? One can blame the bowling — and it has been inconsistent and insipid. But then it always has been an inconsistent area for India!

For me and my money, the Team India state is reflected by its middle order batting. It is the insipid middle order batting that has made the difference in this series. India’s middle-order was its strength. It is not at this current point in time. Time after time, good starts have been squandered by acts that remind us of rabbits and headlights! There is a certain nervous tentativeness about the middle order batting that does not bode well for Indian cricket.

Although Muthiah Muralitharan and Ajanta Mendis have bowled splendidly, I am convinced that India’s much celebrated “F(L)ab Four” haven’t contributed to the series situation. As Dileep Premachandran said in his piece in Cricinfo, there has been a muddle order about the Indian middle order in this series.

India went into this series against Sri Lanka with a much-celebrated middle order. They are returning from the series with more questions than answers. I am sure that the call for the slow (perhaps forced) retirement of the celebrated four will only grow to shrill-pitch when the team returns to India regardless of the outcome of the current Test match!

— Mohan

Team India for ODIs in Sri Lanka and Champions Trophy

As expected, MS Dhoni has returned from a self-inflicted “rest” and has been selected as captain of the Team India ODI side to take on Sri Lanka after the conclusion of the Test series.

Ishant Sharma has been “rested” for the Sri Lanka ODIs, but will return for the Champions Trophy. Munaf Patel, who has been picked for the Sri Lanka tour, will only play in Sri Lanka.

Parthiv Patel has been included as MS Dhoni’s understudy for the Sri Lanka tour. However, Parthiv Patel will return to India after the Sri Lanka ODIs and will not take part in the Champions Trophy.

Is this then and indicator to Parthiv Patel playing instead of Dinesh Karthik in the 3rd and final Test between Sri Lanka and India? Time will tell.

As expected, Sachin Tendulkar comes back into the side that played the Asia Cup. He will most likely open the innings with Virender Sehwag, with Gautam Gambhir at #3. The Gambhir-Sehwag combination will need to wait a while before exploding in ODIs!

Interestingly, no vice-captain has been announced!

Sachin Tendulkar
Virender Sehwag
Gautam Gambhir
Suresh Raina / Virat Kohli
Rohit Sharma
Yuvraj Singh
Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt)
Irfan Pathan
Harbhajan Singh / Pragyan Ojha
Praveen Kumar / Munaf Patel
Zaheer Khan / RP Singh

with

Parthiv Patel (drinks!)

Yusuf Pathan gets the flick! It is unfortunate, but perhaps understandable! He did not really set the ground alight. But the man has enough potential to bounce back into reckoning.

Piyush Chawla has also been shown the door. Now, Chawla, who bowled quite brilliantly in the ODIs in England last year and in Australia earlier in 2008, was quite rudely exposed when bowling to Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup. He would probably benefit from refining his trade. With Harbhajan Singh returning to the fold like the prodigal son, and with Pragyan Ojha seizing his Asia Cup opportunities, it is appropriate, perhaps, that Chawla cools his heels a bit.

Another player that has been shown the door is Robin Uthappa. Once again, the case could be made that he perhaps did not deliver on the many opportunities he has been afforded. In his place, Virat Kohli comes in, on the back of his U-19 exploits and his strong showing in the recently concluded Emerging Players Tournament in Brisbane. S. Badrinath, who also had a strong Emerging Players tournament, would be perhaps justified in feeling a bit desolate at being overlooked — again!

Given the combination that the team has gone with, unless one of Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma and Yuvraj Singh sit out (quite unlikely), India will go in with only 4 mainline bowlers — possibly Zaheer Khan, Praveen Kumar, Irfan Pathan and Harbhajan Singh! Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh will need to bowl out the 5th bowlers quota. This lack of balance has always been India’s weak suit — especially considering that Irfan Pathan is one of these 4 frontline bowlers! If any of these 4 bowlers has an an off day — and Irfan Pathan can have them easily — the bowling can get taken to the cleaners!

The tough alternative would be to replace Suresh Raina with a bowler. It is unlikely that the team would do that, particularly after Raina’s good showing in the Asia Cup!

Interesting days ahead…

— Mohan

Anil Kumble: The perfect man for the job…

Contributed by CWO

A couple of years ago, I came across an article about a corporate business man and his leadership skills. Although I do not remember the article’s name or the person who was quoted in it, a certain aspect of that article stays with me even today. The six qualities that he listed as imperative to define a good leader were:

  • Integrity
  • A deep understanding of the business
  • Consistency
  • Willingness to admit a mistake
  • The ability to listen
  • Decisiveness

Let us set our sights on Anil Kumble and see how he measures up against the above criteria. His is a hard gig. After all, he has, as Team India’s Test Captain, one of the most challenging assignments in International cricket! Anil Kumble started his career seventeen years ago, at the age of twenty. He has played under five captains; including Sourav Ganguly — India’s most triumphant Test captain. After seventeen years in the game, at the ripe age of thirty-six, Anil Kumble became India’s 30th Test captain in Team India’s 76-year history of playing Test cricket.

Integrity
Anil Kumble always had integrity, but he had to prove this under the pressures of leading. Being the captain of India brings more pressure than any other Test cricketing nation. The watchful eye of one billion passionate fans dissects every decision made, scrutinises every loss, and rewards every achievement. Indian cricket fans are among the most — if not the most passionate fans in the world. The perfect opportunity for Anil Kumble to show his integrity came after the second Test at Sydney against Australia in 2008 where India suffered a very controversial loss in a Test that was boiling over with controversy. It was Anil Kumble’s second Test series as a captain, and perhaps his hardest Test. It was up to him to decide what route to take: whether defend his player, his country, his loss; whether to demonstrate restrained integrity or petulant anger. Anil Kumble epitomized the definition of integrity when he revealed his apology to Ricky Ponting over the Harbhajan Singh controversy. He even pointed out that Australia had not played that Test in the right spirit, and addressed the umpiring controversy. He said what had to be said without offending his hosts. He made up his differences with Michael Clarke and Ricky Ponting; and withdrew charges against Brad Hogg.

A deep understanding of the business
Does Anil Kumble have a deep understanding of the business? Of course he does. He has played in over one hundred Test matches, and based on his experience, he quickly embraced the Team India Test captaincy. He won the first Test series he captained against Pakistan. He then went on to achieve a phenomenal victory against Australia in India’s 3rd Test against the Australians at Perth. In doing so, he had conquered the lion in its own den! He also denied Australia a new record in the number of consecutive Test wins. He also helped redeem India’s honour. Anil Kumble has shown a great understanding of Test cricket.

Consistency
This is the reason why many Test captains fail. They tend to lose the consistency of their own performances when they become captain! Partly, this could be ascribed to them caving under pressure. Partly, this is justifed by the distractions that one has when one is a player as well as captain. Unlike a soccer captain, say, a cricket captain makes many on-field tactical decisions and the focus on this can often take consistency away from their own game. However, Anil Kumble has not caved. In fact, he has done quite the opposite. Since becoming captain, he has taken 46 wickets in 11 matches. He has been India’s lead wicket taker as well as a match winner. For years, many an Indian victory has resulted from great performances by Anil Kumble. Since becoming captain he has not disappointed. Anil Kumble is as consistent as ever.

Willingness to admit a mistake
Anil Kumble has always made it a point, since his reign of captaincy started, to take the blame and admit his mistakes. He berated himself for his poor performance in the first Test against Sri Lanka where he went without a wicket. He showed this in his post game interview where he blamed himself by saying, “I take it [my lack of form], but we all tried hard”, and supported the efforts of India.

The ability to listen
There is no greater example of his ability to listen than when India played Australia for the Border-Gavasker Trophy. It was the third Test at Perth. Ishant Sharma was at the conclusion of a huge spell where he had bowled seven overs on the trot on a hot and sticky day! He was bowling a terrific spell and had Ricky Ponting in all sorts of trouble. Anil Kumble was about to take him off. Just then, Virender Sehwag talked to Anil Kumble and suggested that he allow Ishant Sharma bowl another over. Anil Kumble was receptive to the suggestion and let Ishant Sharma bowl another over. Ishant Sharma did not miss the opportunity! He dismissed Ricky Ponting in that over.

Decisiveness
So far we have seen every quality of a leader encompassed in Anil Kumble. The final and the most important quality, perhaps, is decisiveness. Has Anil Kumble been decisive, and has he shown us that he can win games with smart decisions on-and-off the field? It may be a little early in his captaincy-career to decide if he has made many correct decisions or not, but his Test match results so far show us that he has indeed made many correct decisions. His decisions have led him to one series win, one series loss, and one series drawn.

When Rahul Dravid resigned, after taking the Indian Test team to new heights, the leadership responsibility was placed on the shoulders of Anil Kumble. According to many experts and media outlets, Mahendra Singh Dhoni was the leading candidate at that stage. However, it boiled down to a decision around what was best for Indian cricket; especially for Test cricket. While M. S. Dhoni has had a lot of success in other forms of cricket as a captain, when it came to Test cricket, Anil Kumble was always the perfect man for the job.

— CWO

Preview: Sri Lanka vs. India, Third Test

The following article was contributed by CWO.

Sri Lanka (1-1-0) vs. India (1-1-0)
Friday, August 8 2008 – Tuesday, August 12 2008
10:15 local, 04:45 GMT
P Saravanamuttu Stadium, Colombo

It all comes down to this, mono e mono. As much we may analyze the last two Test Matches, Sri Lanka is not the clear-cut favourite to win this 3rd Test. Sri Lanka has a great track record on their home grounds; however, they just lost a Test which at one point looked like the continuation of the first Test at SCC. Sri Lanka needs to get its act together and play to win this series.

Sri Lanka has many things in its favour. To list a few obvious ones:

  • They have the home field advantage.
  • India is without a coach for the rest of the series.
  • Indian middle order has not proven to be any more than a minor inconvenience for the Lankan bowlers.

But this does not mean Sri Lanka has what it takes to win the Test and series.

This game could be Sri Lanka’s for the taking, with the exception of one major factor: the confidence that India now seems to have, and Sri Lanka’s lack there of. The Indian team is hungry for a win. They have just come off a great come-from-behind victory in which one player has seemingly found an answer for the Ajanta Mendis surprise factor. And for once, the whole Team India seems to be jumping on the bandwagon of Anil Kumble cricket (I will post this in more detail another time). India is playing without a coach, which gives Kumble more incentive to step up and play with a lot of fire. Ishant Sharma seems to be getting a grasp of the Sri Lankan pitches, and he did very well extracting bounce from a four day old pitch — and there is no reason why he wouldn’t continue his phenomenal form. The Indian batsmen will have practice and they will concentrate at playing spin from Mendis and reacting to his different variations — especially given that one Team India player has seemingly conquered the surprise.

Sri Lanka will be on their back foot to win this series; the pressure is all on them. They have questions to answer on how to get a good start in the innings. In the last Test, the Sri Lankan openers had partnerships of 4 and 4. This does not bode well for the Sri Lankans. They also have a weak opening bowling attack. The team misses the potency of Lasith Malinga — amply shown by the opening stands (of 167 and 90) between Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir at Galle.

Now for the good news, Ajanta Mendis and Muthiah Muralidharan have taken 34 of the 40 wickets in the first two Tests. This means that as long as the Sri Lankans keep their spin going, they will continue to give themselves their best chance of a win.

India on the other hand has the confidence and quite possibly one of the better bowling attacks to match that of the Sri Lanka’s, giving them a great chance to win this 3rd Test and the series. India will not have to change their second Test game plan too much to win. They will use the track which is suited for spin, and expect the new ball brilliance to continue from their two spearheads, Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan. With a well balanced bowling attack their only question will be around the middle-order stepping up to the plate. Will Sachin Tendulkar finally let go of the pressure of becoming the #1 accumulator of runs in Test cricket? Will Tendulkar play the way he did in Australia? Will Rahul Dravid once again become a “Wall” and frustrate bowlers as he did in the England series last year? Will Sourav Ganguly step out of his cocoon and become the prolific scorer he has been in the past decade? If these questions answer positively for India, then we will witness something special, as India has not won a series in Sri Lanka in 15 years!

At this stage, it is anybody’s series, but India has the upper hand, even if just slightly.

— CWO