Fighting fit and in form, openers give India selection headache

India is faced with an opening conundrum. One of the three openers, M. Vijay, K.L. Rahul or Shikhar Dhawan will have to sit out. All three have strong credentials.

Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane during a practice session in Kolkata on Tuesday.   -  K.R. Deepak

The ubiquitous yellow coloured ambassadors still wade through the typically busy traffic. Timeless buildings – the faded paint adds to the charm – stare at you. The tram-lines continue to snake their way along some iconic routes.  

Kolkata, a city of myriad cultural hues, has a heartbeat and a soul. It has oodles of character.  

The city has a rich cricketing history as well. Several of the game’s immortals have left their invisible footprints at the captivating Eden Gardens.  

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Following action at the Eden Gardens is akin to watching a movie on cinemascope. Everything appears bigger, larger than life. And the fare here has often been arresting.

Test cricket returns to this alluring venue when India takes on Sri Lanka in the series opener, beginning Thursday.

You could feel the sort of buzz at the ground that only comes ahead of an international game. The Indians hummed during their practice session here on Tuesday, their confidence levels predictably high after a series of triumphs.  

DID YOU KNOW?

India’s Ravichandran Ashwin and Sri Lanka’s Rangana Herath have claimed more Test wickets than anybody else since the start of 2015; taking 178 and 145 respectively in that time.

 

Interestingly, the surface for the match sported plenty of grass. Although some of it could be trimmed ahead of the Test, locals say the pitch will offer bounce and seam movement.

India has a strong pace attack – Umesh Yadav, Mohammad Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar should form the pace trio - that could probe the Lankan batsmen with speed, swing cut and lift.

India's Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar prepare to bowl during a practice session on Tuesday.   -  K.R. Deepak

  India’s spin duo of R. Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, so deadly at home, may find less assistance from this track although bounce  can encourage all bowlers, pacemen and spinners.

There is also this theory that the Indian team-management is inclined towards testing its batsmen on a lively track with bounce ahead of the challenging Test series in South Africa. But then pitches seldom reveal themselves fully until the game begins and then progresses.

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Cricket Association of Bengal President and former India captain Sourav Ganguly felt, “It would be a good wicket.” Come Thursday, the batsmen will find out.

Talking about batsmen, India is faced with an opening conundrum. One of the three openers, M. Vijay, KL Rahul or Shikhar Dhawan will have to sit out. All three have strong credentials.

Vijay has been regarded by the team-management as its No. 1 opener in tough, seamer-friendly conditions and is a certainty for the tour of South Africa.

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But then, this technically pure right-hander, back in the hunt after recovering from a wrist injury, has two strong contenders to grapple with.

The smooth-stroking KL Rahul has a stunning seven successive Test half-centuries going into this match and, like Murali Vijay, has finally found some form in domestic cricket after an injury lay-off.

On the other hand, the left-handed Shikhar Dhawan produced scores of 190 and 119 in the three-Test series in Sri Lanka earlier this year. He can be influential with his aggressive methods, forces bowlers to shift line since he is a southpaw.

This Indian team, however, has a policy of selecting back in the eleven those who lost their places because of injuries. So much so that Karun Nair lost his spot to the fit-again Ajinkya Rahane  after he had smashed a triple century against England in Chennai. Karun was dropped for India’s next Test in Hyderabad.

Vijay missed the tour of Sri Lanka owing to fitness concerns and Dhawan was drafted in his place.

Will the team-management follow the same yardstick on this occasion too. Interesting days lie ahead in the City of Joy.

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