India have responded to the disappointment of defeat against South Africa by ringing the changes for this series against Sri Lanka. Will that prove a tonic to their fortunes or will the tourists, themselves somewhat in need of a reset, find a way to win a famous victory? Read on for our full India vs Sri Lanka 1st Test preview and prediction:
India vs Sri Lanka 1st Test Preview and Prediction
India’s last Test tour ended in real disappointment. After taking a 1-0 series lead against the Proteas in South Africa, they looked poised to win their first away series against that opposition. But the South Africans battled back impressively to win the second and third Tests relatively comfortably to deny India a famous series win. India did, however, impress in beating New Zealand 1-0 on home turf in November, despite the Black Caps valiant effort to save the first Test in Kanpur.
Sri Lanka, meanwhile, were last in red-ball action at the close of last year when they took on the West Indies on home turf. It was a successful series for the hosts, with the West Indian batsman largely unable to deal with the turn and bounce generated by the Sri Lankan spinners. Lasith Embuldeniya, Ramesh Mendis and Praveen Jayawickrama were all among the wickets and the Sri Lankans will need their spinners, particularly Embuldeniya, to perform once again.
Rohit Sharma will captain India and open the batting, with Mayank Agarwal his likeliest partner at the top of the order after solid returns in India’s last two series. Shubman Gill is an option at the top, however. Cheteshwar Pujara has been dropped leaving the number three position open. Shreyas Iyer looks to be the likeliest candidate to fill that spot. He scored a century batting in the middle order on debut against New Zealand. Virat Kohli, playing in his 100th Test, will bat at four.
Hanuma Vihari looks the likeliest option to replace Ajinkya Rahane, also dropped at five, with Rishabh Pant in at six. He was probably the pick of the Indian batters in South Africa. Ravindra Jadeja will make a welcome return to the side at number seven with Ravi Ashwin the last recognised batter at eight. Kuldeep Yadav will probably get the nod as the third spinner. Jasprit Bumrah is just about a lock to play, which leaves Mohammad Shami and Mohammad Siraj to contest the final spot in the XI.
Pathum Nissanka and Dimuth Karunaratne will open the batting for Sri Lanka. There is increasing confidence in that duo at the top of the order and Sri Lanka will need them to perform if they are to have a real chance of victory. That may see Lahiru Thirimanne drop down the order on his return to bat at number three. All-rounder Angelo Mathews will bat at four, with Dhanajaya de Silva in at five. He will hope to contribute with both bat and ball in conditions that should suit his off-spin.
Dinesh Chandimal’s greater experience may see him preferred to Charith Asalanka at number six, whilst the returning Niroshan Dickwella – still searching for a Test century – will bat at seven. Suranga Lakmal will have a vital role to play in taking the new ball as Sri Lanka’s leading seamer. Embuldeniya will hope to continue his fine start to Test cricket. Jayawickrama will likely be picked head of Vishewa Fernando. Lahiru Kumara may be in line for a return to Test cricket with his pace offering a real point of difference.
It will be Kohli’s day on the occasion of his 100th Test match, but the former-captain’s slump has gone on for long enough that it is hard to consider him the key man in this side at the moment. Jadeja, however, may well prove vital to India’s chances, not just in this match but in future series. His improvements with the bat have turned him into a genuine all-rounder and those are worth their weight in gold. If he can perform well, it will go along way to securing an Indian victory.
There is talent in this Sri Lankan side, but a great deal of responsibility will rest on the shoulder of their captain. In a batting unit relatively prone to collapses, particularly away from home, Karunaratne is the man who holds the side together. He may not be the most elegant player, but in an exceptionally tough era for batting, his determination to preserve his wicket is often invaluable. If he does not score runs, it is hard to see Sri Lanka coming away with a result here.
Some have described India as a side in transition, but the reserves of talent are so deep in Indian cricket at the moment that the negative connotations associated with transition don’t seem entirely appropriate. Pujara and Rahane may be gone, and the top order somewhat unsettled, but this is still a very strong side on paper and one that only very rarely loses matches, nevermind series, at home. Man for man, they are a better side than Sri Lanka and that should be reflected in the result.
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