Kandy: India stand on the cusp of history as they aim to complete their maiden 3-0 away sweep when they take on Sri Lanka in the third Test beginning here Saturday. They have won the first two Tests by a convincing margin and would certainly like to keep the momentum going when the action resumes again.
For the records, India have achieved a clean sweep of a series on only four occasions. Under Mohammed Azaharuddin they did it twice – against England (3-0 in 199) and against Sri Lanka (3-0 in 1994). Then in 2013 MS Dhoni led India to a 4-0 sweep over Australia and Virat Kohli also achieved a 3-0 demolition against New Zealand last year. But all these victories came at home only.
However, since they started playing Test cricket in 1932, India have never made a complete sweep of an away series. So even if they achieve it against an ‘in transition’ Sri Lankan side, it would be a creditable feat still.
The Sri Lankans, after being beaten on a batting track in the first Test and a turner in the second, have decided to revert to pace. The wicket here cannot be differentiated from the lush green outfield, and even though the grass will come off Saturday morning (the compulsory last mowing), the pitch will have enough life for the pacers.
Sri Lanka have brought into the side pacers Dushmantha Chameera and Lahiru Gamage in place of the injured Nuwan Pradeep and Rangana Herath as they seek redemption trying to hit back against India with pace.
But then that is when their dilemma starts as India have all the bases covered. In the two Tests that they have played on pitches offering them any help, both Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami have struck crucial blows whenever they have been handed the red cherry. So if the hosts think of blowing India away through sheer pace, then they also must be aware of the fact that the visitors also have a fallback plan.
Kohli in the series is yet to use Bhuvneshwar Kumar, but the green top here might just prompt him to do so. Bhuvi has been Kohli’s go to man on pitches conducive to swing and seam bowling and the Test here may see just that happen again. Even though it has been written that chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav is a surety in the playing XI in place of the suspended Ravindra Jadeja, it may not just happen automatically. There is every chance, that Bhuvi will replace Jadeja.
However, the other option available in Kohli’s hand is replacing Hardik Pandya with Bhuvneshwar as the latter is also no mean hand with the bat. Then only chances of seeing Kuldeep in the final XI will increase. In the 28 Tests that Kohli have led India there has never been a single occasion when he has named the same playing XI. The 29th will not prove to be anything different also.
As things stand, Sri Lanka can only hope that their pacers come good against an Indian batting line-up that has really looked solid in the two Tests so far. And if the hosts are in trouble, they can only pray for some rain, which did come Friday to ruin India’s practice session.
As things stand, not Sri Lanka but rain stands in India’s path as they seek history.