Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Number one ranking beckons India

A chance to go atop the world rankings at stake, India take on a struggling Sri Lanka in the final cricket Test hoping to wrap up the series 2-0.
As Test cricket returns to the Cricket Club of India's Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai after more than three and a half decades, the hosts are clear favourites to wrap up the rubber with another victory following the landmark 100th win at Kanpur inside four days.

A 2-0 victory margin in the series would take India to the top of the ICC Test rankings table, two points above current number one South Africa.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni's men appear to carry too big an arsenal, especially in batting, for the comfort of Kumar Sangakkara's visiting team which needs to buckle up and leave behind the morale-shattering innings defeat in Kanpur.

Dhoni has been lucky with the toss in the first two Tests, though his team faced down the barrel at 32 for four on the first morning of the series at Ahmedabad before being rescued by the tenacity of Rahul Dravid and the grit of Yuvraj Singh.
India would be without in-form opener Gautam Gambhir, maker of four Test hundreds on the trot in as many matches since the March-April tour of New Zealand and seven in his last nine Tests. The Lankans would hope to drive a wedge into the home team's rock-solid top order in the Delhi left-hander's absence, who has opted out to attend his sister's wedding.

Young Tamil Nadu innings-launcher Murali Vijay has got his second opportunity to show his capabilities at the Test level due to Gambhir's pull-out. He needs to not only grab it with both hands but also play the ideal foil to the swashbuckling Virender Sehwag.

Sehwag and Vijay had forged good partnerships of 98 and 116 in their previous association for India as openers at Nagpur just over a year ago in the fourth Test against Australia.

Vijay stepped in for Gambhir, who was serving a one-Test ban on disciplinary grounds after elbowing all rounder Shane Watson, at the previous Delhi Test. He made 33 and 41.

Vijay got his chance to make his Test debut after being rushed into the highest form of the game straight from the Ranji Trophy tie in Nashik against Maharashtra on the strength of associating with a plus-400 stand with Abhinav Mukund.

Sri Lanka's Chanaka Welegedara, who can bowl good in-swingers would fancy his chances against Vijay. The Lankans will once again miss Dammika Prasad, who has not yet recovered from a hamstring injury picked during the opening Test.

The visitors need to curb Sehwag at the earliest before the Delhi dasher takes the game away with his audacious shots as he did in Kanpur.

But for this to happen, Sri Lanka would need their ace spinner Muthiah Muralitharan to lead from the front.

Muralitharan has not made an impact in the series so far and it is his last chance to make a mark in India as he's unlikely to be around when they visit next.

After the Kanpur loss, Sangakkara said Muralitharan's lack of success was a worry but also backed Test cricket's leading wicket taker, who is 12 short of touching the 800-mark.

Sangakkara is also hoping for a change in his luck with the toss after having called wrongly on the first two occasions.

Winning it and piling up a huge score looks to be the best way of applying pressure on the home team's strong batting order boasting of Sehwag, Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, V V S Laxman, Yuvraj and Dhoni

The pitch at the Brabourne is a virgin one, having not been used at all this season as the Ranji Trophy tie between Mumbai and Orissa was held on the adjoining track.

It is expected to be a slow turner after giving initial help to the fast bowlers and more importantly the swing bowlers from both teams would get good help from the breeze that wafts across the ground.
S Sreesanth, the Indian bowling hero at Kanpur whose swing bowling after his return to the team following a lengthy gap undid the Lankans, is expected to use the breeze to the full as also Zaheer Khan.

Back from 19 months of international wilderness, Sreesanth's five-wicket haul in the first innings flattened Lanka and forced them to follow-on.

The Kerala bowler struck an important blow in the second innings too to walk away with the man of the match award, a splendid way to return to top-flight cricket after his well-chronicled on and off-field antics in between.

Teams (from):

India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (Capt.), Virender Sehwag, 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, Dilhara Fernando, Nuwan Kulasekera, Dammika Prasad, Rangana Herath, Ajantha Mendis.

Hours of play: 9 30 am to 11 30 am; 12 10 pm to 2 10 pm; 2 30 pm to 4 30 pm (minimum 90 overs).

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