Rampant India favourite for 3-0 sweep

The force is with India as the third Test in Pallekele begins on Saturday.

Virat Kohli's men have ticked most of the boxes in the Test series so far. Photo: AFP   -  AFP

The drive from Kandy to the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium, winds through hills rich in nature’s bounty and dotted with quaint tiled-homes and shops. Even those 30 minutes on the road don’t exactly prepare you for the venue’s splendid locale.

The ground is surrounded by cloud-enveloped mountains and acres of verdant green. The last-named shade was however toned down on the pitch with the ground-staff scrubbing away the grass. In this enthralling setting, India will look to extend its 2-0 lead in the third and final Test commencing here on Saturday.

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The force is with India while Sri Lanka has faltered despite the odd streak of rebellion. The previous Tests at Galle and Colombo, ended in four days each. The visitor’s dominance was overwhelming against a host that is still searching for the right combination and ideal performance while also resembling the walking-wounded, losing players to freak incidents on the ground or to regular wear-and-tear that affects athletes.

                        Kohli denies rumours on absence from limited-overs leg of tour

Virat Kohli denied the rumours about him skipping the limited-overs matches against Sri Lanka after the third Test. India is scheduled to play five ODIs and a Twenty20 game.

When asked about his probable participation in these matches, Kohi replied: “As captain I am in the thick of things and know what to speak to the (selection) committee about. Who said I am not playing? I don’t know where these (rumours) came from. If you don’t want me to play, then tell me, I have no problems in playing.”

Virat Kohli’s men have ticked most of the boxes, be it runs or wickets with the lone worry being a few butter-fingers in the close-in cordon. India etched five centuries (Cheteshwar Pujara scored a ton each at Galle and Colombo) and seven fifties in the three innings that it has played so far. The lower-order too has excelled, a welcome-bonus that beefs up teams. The bowling has been top-notch, though there was a period of struggle against the sweep shot that the Sri Lankans unfurled at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo.

India, however, will miss its leading wicket-taker Ravindra Jadeja (13 wickets) who is coping with an ICC-ban for this match. It is bound to add extra pressure upon R. Ashwin (11) who has already bowled 108.3 overs in this series. Most likely, chinaman Kuldeep Yadav will replace Jadeja in the eleven unless the management wants a like-for-like option and plumps for left-arm spinner Axar Patel.

If India has its men in fine form and in the right frame of mind, Sri Lanka has found its fortune and resources dwindling at an alarming rate. It will step into this game without seamer Nuwan Pradeep and left-arm spinner Rangana Herath, both afflicted by injuries. The host has just two centuries to show for thanks to the efforts of Dimuth Karunaratne and Kusal Mendis at Colombo. Overall the runs have been sporadic, the wickets taken nothing to gloat about and the playing surfaces haven’t exactly bolstered the home squad. Speedster Lahiru Kumara and spinners Dilruwan Perera and Malinda Pushpakumara could form the core of the home attack and they are up against an upbeat batting unit.

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The last time India managed a 3-0 whitewash, it was in the home series against New Zealand in the previous season. Kohli’s men could very well do that again unless the opposition fashions a miracle. It did one in its last Test here in 2016, a come-from-behind 106-run triumph against Australia. But among its two heroes – Mendis (176) and Herath (five for 54 in the second innings), only the former will play as the latter has been ruled out with a stiff back.

A repeat act of the ‘David stunning Goliath’ story, looks remote. With cumulus clouds a steady presence, rains are probable and only the weather factor may delay India's winning streak.

The teams (from)

India: Virat Kohli (captain), K.L. Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Abhinav Mukund, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, R. Ashwin, Hardik Pandya, Wriddhiman Saha (wicket-keeper), Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Kuldeep Yadav and Axar Patel.

Sri Lanka: Dinesh Chandimal (captain), Angelo Mathews, Upul Tharanga, Dimuth Karunaratne, Niroshan Dickwella (wicket-keeper), Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya de Silva, Lahiru Thirimanne, Lahiru Kumara, Vishwa Fernando, Dushmantha Chameera, Lahiru Gamage, Dilruwan Perera, Malinda Pushpakumara and Lakshan Sandakan.

Umpires: Richard Illingworth and Rod Tucker; Third umpire: Bruce Oxenford; Match referee: Richie Richardson.