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SL-Ind Preview: Can India beat the Lions in their own den?
by Suneer Chowdhary
Jul 21, 2008
While the absence of Sanath Jayasuriya - due to one of his iterative retirements - may just be the fillip that the touring Indians need, they would, by no means start as favourites in the three match Test series against the hosts Sri Lanka. In fact, if history is any indicator, they may just be the underdogs in this duel, despite the strong and the much vaunted batting line-up that they possess. Strong it is, especially when you consider that a certain Yuvraj Singh does not make it to the squad and has to sit out.

Yet, one can easily stick one's neck out and take a punt on the hosts, and not be looked at with a startled pair of eyes by anyone who has followed the sport in this country. The stats are a definite indicator on how much the visiting teams in general, and India in particular has struggled on the typically sluggish, but high scoring Lankan wickets. India's four previous tours have resulted in only one series win - they have lost twice - and the overall record there is two wins to three losses. In fact, as mentioned earlier, it is not only India, but almost all countries that have failed to leave too much of a mark in the Island Nation, with Lanka having won 25 matches at home and lost only 11 in the last ten years! Contrast this with their away record of 10-18 in the same period - without winning a single one in India - and one gets a clearer picture of Sri Lanka's strength and confidence in their own den.

Coming back to the upcoming series, the most surprising aspect is the fact that if there are any pitches that are close in nature and behaviour to the ones Indians are bred on, they are the Sri Lankan ones. Usually shorn of any grass, the new ball bowlers exist to only see the shine off before Muralitharan and his sidekick spinners get into their own to asphyxiate the opposition batting. Usually the quicker bowlers get no assistance from the pitches themselves and hence the spinners end up bowling a higher percentage of overs in this country. Considering this, the poor Indian record in Sri Lanka seems to be an anomaly.

The greatness of Muralitharan is unquestionable.And his ability to turn the ball square on any given track is well documented. But his figures reveal that he too, prefers the comforts of home when it comes to his bowling. His average outside of his country is a very good 26, but a look at his figures in Sri Lanka, and it is an almost George Lohamnnish 19! This difference only drives home the point that Murali is as dangerous as ever, and raring to go.

However, this time it may be slightly different. The sidekicks - or at least one of them - may end up kicking more dust than the protagonist himself, as Ajantha Mendis would look to make his Test debut and pose a new riddle to the Indian batsmen. He would come into the match on a high after his Man-of-the-Series performance in the Asia Cup that included the famous six wicket haul against India in the finals. His partnership with Muralitharan would be nothing short of fascinating to watch - the master and the pupil in tandem. Viewing Brian Lara videos of the 2001-02 series may be a great lesson in how to play Murali, but a session or two with the Indian team's video analyst, Ramki, would be of a great help in deciphering this cricket's newest sensation. From whatever footage that is available of this deceptive bowler, that is. This one battle between the guile of Mendis - and he has around five different deliveries in his armory - and arguably the best players of spin in the world, Indians, in Tests, is as mouth watering as the one against Shane Warne in 2001. One has already seen Mendis outdo Murali in the previous ODI series and whether this trend continues in the Tests as well is what one would wait for with bated breath.

Having said that, the one factor that may work against the 2 Ms, Murali and Mendis, could be the rains that the months of July and August bring. With the tour game already been affected by the same, gripping the wet ball becomes a little more difficult, and reduces the chances of spinning the ball. This is where the Indians may have a slight edge, with their pace attack's fangs being sharper than the hosts. Zaheer Khan's confident comeback from injury and Lasith Malinga's absence due to one, may add to their woes and this may even the battle out. Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan may be the ones who could get some swing in the air and that is where the Indians may get an edge.

All in all, while it may be true that the results could hinge on the battle between the Sri Lankan spinners and Indian batsmen. Sachin Tendulkar, remember is on the verge of passing Lara on the all-time run-getter list, and this will certainly be a highlight of the series. Indians have usually found it difficult to dislodge the Lankan batsmen on their home turf. And without capturing the twenty wickets on a consistent basis, winning the series would be a an unlikely end for the tourists; like it has been so far.
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