India favourite to seal series at hallowed SSC

Fit-again Rahul, Chandimal set to return.

Virat Kohli speaks to his team members during a training session at the SSC.   -  AP

History’s weighty footprints are present all over the Sinhalese Sports Club Ground. They are evident in various forms - the club crest with the words ‘founded 1899’ etched below; a larger-than-life framed photograph of Sir Don Bradman striding out to bat, in the press-conference hall; and wood-panelled walls with names of the institution’s former skippers that includes Arjuna Ranatunga and Mahela Jayawardene.

In this setting, India, nursing a 1-0 lead, will take on Sri Lanka in the second Test from Thursday. Since the venue’s past has been broached, it would be prudent to remember India’s performance here, a graph that features eight Tests, two wins, two losses and four draws.

Watch: India v Sri Lanka 2nd Test Preview

It is a middling statistic and yet Virat Kohli’s men will do well to recall their last visit in 2015. It was again a second Test, but the backdrop was different due to a first Test loss. India did well then to win the match by 117 runs with Cheteshwar Pujara’s 145 and Ishant Sharma’s match-haul of eight wickets helping the visitor turn the tide and draw level at 1-1. Later India won that series 2-1. Incidentally, the latest contest is Pujara’s 50th in Tests.

This time around, India walks in with the swagger of having emphatically won at Galle. As Kohli said, it was a performance that ticked most of the boxes. Right from the openers Shikhar Dhawan and Abhinav Mukund to the bowlers, various individual performances offered the visitor a lot to cheer for. But one change in the playing XI seems inevitable. K.L. Rahul, having recovered from the viral fever that forced him to skip the previous match, is fit and according to Kohli, will get his spot back. From all indications, Abhinav will have to make way for Rahul as Dhawan’s 190 at Galle has sealed the latter’s position.

Spin friendly

The surface offered the fast bowlers some assistance in the 2015 Test before spinners like R. Ashwin came into play. The pitch for the latest clash lost a significant portion of its grass-cover on Wednesday. The host captain Dinesh Chandimal, returning from a pneumonia-induced break, said that there could be turn after two days. Whether the 22-yards’ conjectured preference for spin will influence India’s composition is a matter for speculation. For all practical purposes, Hardik Pandya, who had a good debut at Galle, should continue to figure in the XI unless the management opts for a third spinner. If that point of view prevails, either Pandya or Umesh Yadav could make way for Kuldeep Yadav.

READ: Fit-again Chandimal hopeful of turnaround in Colombo

The host, bolstered with the return of Chandimal and Rangana Herath’s recovery from a finger injury, intends to field left-arm spinner Malinda Pushpakumara. Among Sri Lankan bowlers in the first Test, seamer Nuwan Pradeep was the most impressive and the rest hardly made an impression on India’s batsmen. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s batting is likely to have Dhananjaya de Silva stepping in for the injured Asela Gunaratne.

At Galle, India’s willow-wielders notched three centuries; in contrast, the Sri Lanka's scorecards across two innings had five fifties. The inability to capitalise upon those starts hurt the home team and it is a deficiency that Chandimal’s men have to address.

A few spells of rains have been forecast until the weekend. Unless the weather turns extremely damp or Sri Lanka reveals an indomitable spirit, India should fancy its chances of taking an unassailable 2-0 lead.

The teams (from)

India: Virat Kohli (c), K. L. Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Abhinav Mukund, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, R. Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Hardik Pandya, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav and Kuldeep Yadav.

Sri Lanka: Dinesh Chandimal (c), Angelo Mathews, Upul Tharanga, Dimuth Karunaratne, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya de Silva, Danushka Gunathilaka, Lahiru Kumara, Vishwa Fernando, Nuwan Pradeep, Rangana Herath, Dilruwan Perera, Malinda Pushpakumara, Lakshan Sandakan and Lahiru Thirimanne.

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

Match starts at 10 a.m.

Opta Facts

If India avoid defeat in this match, it will go four Test series unbeaten against Sri Lanka (currently W2 D1).

India has only lost one Test in its last six versus Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka (W4 D1); winning its last three encounters there.

Sri Lanka has only tasted defeat once in its last 16 Test matches at this venue in Colombo (W8 D7); the sole loss in that time did come against India however (2015).

Cheteshwar Pujara requires 34 to reach 4,000 runs in Test cricket; only two batsmen to have scored 2,000+ runs for India have ever managed a better average than him (52.2 - Tendulkar and Dravid), this will be his 50th Test.