India gears up for another green top

The Eden Gardens Test has become bellwether for 'grass on pitch' series and the 22 yards at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium is almost sure to follow suit.

India's Cheteshwar Pujara (left) and Ajinkya Rahane inspect the pitch during a training session at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium in Nagpur on Thursday.   -  AFP

The fascinating part on the eve of the Test match is the prediction around the composition of the team, the appearance and likely behaviour of the pitch, the unpredictable climatic conditions during the course of five days and the surprises in store.

The opening Test of the three-match rubber was a case in point, offering plenty to mull over as it ebbed and flowed once the visitor’s bowling spearhead, Suranga Lakmal, exploited the damp, seamer-friendly pitch on the first day of the Eden Gardens Test.

The 30-year-old Lakmal, who is five scalps away from becoming the sixth Sri Lankan to cross the 100-wicket mark in Test cricket, was not the same force when the home team batted the second time 122 runs behind. But for probably the first time in the history of an Indian home Test international series, the Eden Gardens surface has set a precedent for the way the pitch at the local association’s Jamtha facility would be prepared for the second Test and perhaps at the Feroz Shah Kotla for the final Test.

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Only two years ago the Nagpur pitch here was rate 'poor' by an ICC committee after the Indian spinners made life miserable for the South African batsmen and took all twenty wickets. But on the eve of the second Test here India’s captain Virat Kohli admitted that the team management had asked the host associations to prepare the types of surfaces that would help India tune up for the three-Test series against South Africa to be played at Cape Town, Centurion and The Wanderers.

Before the start of the domestic season, Parthiv Patel made a pithy remark that India’s warm-up game two days after arriving in South Africa would be the 'first Test' itself. He was not far off the mark. India is scheduled to play a two-day warm-up match from December 30 before the New Year's Test at Cape Town on January 5.

 

In these circumstances, the Indian team’s choice to treat the home series against Sri Lanka as a genuine preparation for the tough conditions and opponent in South Africa and mentally prepare itself is a good choice. Kagiso Rabada and co. will be formidable in home conditions, but the Indian team believes that it would still help seeing the likes of Lakmal, Dasun Shanaka and Lahiru Gamage run in and bowl at them.

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By noon on Thursday, more than half-a-dozen men in uniform were diligently covering the centre pitch with a sort of 'dhurri' cloth to protect the surface from harsh sunlight. Prepared by  Taposh Chatterjee and the local curator, Pravin Hingnikar, the pitch according to Kohli will remain hard with some grass on it for the fast bowlers to bend their back and extract bounce out of it for two days. Then, from day three onwards, the spinners will come into play. The Sri Lankan Skipper, Dinesh Chandimal said, 'there is grass, but not to the same amount as was seen in Kolkata and that it would be a good Test match pitch'.

The home team will take the field without Shikhar Dhawan, who made an attractive 94 off 116 balls and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who proved his skill with the new ball and took  eight wickets. It should be a straightforward choice of Murali Vijay coming in for Dhawan, but Kohli has options in Ishant Sharma for Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Sharma has a dismal record this year, taking six wickets from four Test matches (one against Bangladesh and three against Australia) wickets at 53.00. At this venue, though, this Delhi fast bowler has played five Test matches here and taken 14 wickets at 25.21, but he went wicket-less in the last three innings against England and South Africa.

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The other option is giving the first big break to Vijay Shankar and Kohli went to the extent of lavishing praise on the Tamil Nadu all-rounder. The Indian team had its second training session with fast bowlers Umesh Yadav bowling a few deliveries with an elbow taping and Mohammed Shami not really going all out.

The pitch here has favoured Australia’s off-spinner Jason Krejza took 12 wickets in the inaugural Test match here in 2008, South African fast bowler Dale Steyn took 10 wickets in 2010 and R. Ashwin took a tally of 15 wickets in two Tests. But with everyone who has seen the pitch talking about the presence of some grass cover, it would be interesting to see whether the fast bowlers actually find assistance. Sri Lanka has added chinaman bowler Lakshan Sandakan to the eleven that played in the first Test.

The teams: India (from) Virat Kohli (captain), Murali Vijay  K.L. Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), R. Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Vijay Shankar, Rohit Sharma, Kuldeep Yadav, Kuldeep Rathore and Ishant Sharma.

Sri Lanka (from) Dinesh Chandimal (captain), Dimuth Karunaratne,  Sadeera Samarawickrama, Angelo Mathews, Lahiru Thirimanne, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Rangana Herath, Suranga Lakmal,  Lakshan Sandakan, Dilruwan Perera,  Dashun Shanaka, Lahiru Gamage, Dhananjaya de Silva,  Vishwa Fernando, Roshen Silva.

 

Sri Lanka captain Dinesh Chandimal during a training session.   -  Vivek Bendre

Our attitude has changed: Chandimal

Sri Lanka Skipper Dinesh Chandimal said that the first Test at Kolkata was good for his team, except in the last session on the fifth day. "We learned a lot from the (previous) India series in Sri Lanka. The most important thing is that we have come here to win the series. Our attitude has changed. Our fielding has made a huge difference and there’s a lot of energy. We have looked at a six-five combination or six-four- plus an all-rounder.’’

When asked to distinguish between the pitch in Kolkata and at Nagpur he said: "Not much grass like (it was in) Calcutta. We saw so much grass at Eden Gardens. This is much less. This looks a good Test pitch. It’s a challenge for us as a team. We are looking forward for the game.’’