Saturday, November 14, 2009

India gear up for Sri Lanka Test challenge

AHMEDABAD: India will make a quick switch to Test cricket to defend their unbeaten home record against Sri Lanka in a three-match series starting on Monday.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni's men have endured a gruelling six-month schedule of limited-overs cricket which ended this week with a one-day series loss against world champions Australia.

The Indians have played just three Tests this year -- in New Zealand in March-April -- and Dhoni agreed the sudden adjustment to the traditional five-day format will not be easy.

"This is the way modern cricket is played," said Dhoni. "We have to be mentally prepared to make the change and I am confident we will be up for the challenge."

Sri Lanka are brimming with confidence after two back-to-back series wins at home against Pakistan and New Zealand which lifted Kumar Sangakkara's men to the number two spot in the Test rankings behind South Africa.

India, however, remains the final frontier for the Sri Lankans, who have never won a Test on Indian soil in six previous series, losing eight matches while the remaining six were drawn.

"Winning Tests in India is a goal, but we are not putting ourselves under any pressure," said Sangakkara. "We want to enjoy the tour and if we play as well as we are capable of, there is no reason why we can't win."

Sri Lanka suffered heavy defeats in their last series in India in 2005, losing the second Test by 188 runs and the third by 259 runs after the first match was rained off.

Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Thilan Samaraweera and star spinner Muttiah Muralitharan are the only survivors from that tour, but the skipper said his young side was capable of delivering.

"Inexperience is sometimes a good thing as the Indian batsmen have not played our fast bowlers regularly in the longer form of the game which can work to our advantage," said Sangakkara.

"Sometimes a fresh perspective, attitude and enthusiasm could be an added bonus".

Muralitharan, Test cricket's leading bowler with 783 wickets, also has a score to settle after claiming just 31 scalps in eight matches on Indian soil at an expensive average of 39.58.

The off-spinner, 37, will once again lead the attack with help from fellow spinners Rangana Herath and Ajantha Mendis on wickets that traditionally help slow bowlers.

India, riding on their formidable batting led by world record holder Sachin Tendulkar, have won three of their last four home series against Pakistan, Australia and England, while the fourth against South Africa ended 1-1.

The Ahmedabad Test will mark the start of a third decade in international cricket for Tendulkar, the world's leading Test and one-day batsman, who made his debut aged 16 against Pakistan on November 15, 1989.

Test regulars Rahul Dravid and Venkatsai Laxman are back to join Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh in the middle-order, with twice triple-centurion Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir opening the batting.

India's bowling will be bolstered by the return of pace spearhead Zaheer Khan, who was sidelined for five months with a shoulder injury. The 31-year-old left-arm seamer has 210 wickets from 65 Tests.

Khan and young paceman Ishant Sharma are expected to share the new ball, with seasoned off-spinner Harbhajan Singh and leg-break bowler Amit Sharma providing the spin options.

The remaining two Tests will be played in Kanpur (November 24-28) and Mumbai (December 2-6).

Teams (from):

India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (Capt.), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Amit Mishra, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Murali Vijay, Pragyan Ojha, S Sreesanth, Subramaniam Badrinath.

Sri Lanka: Kumar Sangakkara (Capt.), Muttiah Muralitharan, Mahela Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Tharanga Paranavitana, Thilan Samaraweera, Angelo Mathews, Thilina Kandamby, Prasanna Jayawardene, Kaushal Silva, Chanaka Welegedara, Thilan Thushara, Nuwan Kulasekera, Dammika Prasad, Rangana Herath, Ajantha Mendis.

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