Muralitharan aiming for new records in India

Muttiah Muralitharan is contemplating what could be his last test series on foreign soil and wants to achieve something he’s never done by guiding Sri Lanka to a win in India against a lineup containing Sachin Tendulkar.

Two of cricket’s greatest players head into the three-test series starting here Monday in different moods.

Muralitharan, the leading wicket-taker of all time with 783 in test cricket, was in a reflective mood after Sri Lanka‘s warmup match was abandoned due to rain.

“I have played enough cricket over the years. This could be my last tour overseas,” the 37-year-old spinner said. “Sri Lanka has not won a test series in India, so it would be great if my team won the series this time.”

Tendulkar will start the series a day after celebrating the 20th anniversary of his test debut as a teenager.

Among those lining up to wish him well was India‘s chief selector Krish Srikkanth, who was India captain when Tendulkar made his debut at age 16 on Nov. 15, 1989 against Pakistan at Karachi.

“It is not a common thing in cricket to achieve so much in 20 years. He occupies top spot among the best in world cricket and perhaps the most popular cricketer in the game,” Srikkanth said. “He is role model to up and coming youngsters. In India every youngster who is in to school or college cricket wants to become a Sachin.

“I am sure the lovers of the game in India await much more achievements from Sachin in the years to come.”

Tendulkar, already with a record 12,773 runs in 159 tests, including 42 centuries, has no plans of retiring just yet, particularly after India had only five test matches on the schedule this season.

He doesn’t think it’s enough.

“Ideally for any team to progress you need to play more test cricket as that is where the real cricket is, according to me,” he told a marathon news conference this week. “Test cricket is cricket of the highest level and since it is played across five days at the end of each day it allows you to regroup, re-think, come up with fresh ideas and plan for the next day.”

He was asked if he could keep playing until 2015.

“It would be nice if I can go on that that long but I don’t want to think that far. My focus is on the near future. I’ve enjoyed every bit so far and I feel there is cricket left in me and everything is going really well.”

While they got limited practice, the Sri Lankans were hoping to be bolstered by the return of batsman Tillakaratne Dilshan from an ankle injury.

Sri Lanka skipper Kumar Sangakkara indicated that one of Prasanna Jayawardene and Kaushal Silva will start as wicketkeeper, meaning that Dilshan is available as a specialist batsman.

“Prasanna has been doing great with the gloves. Kaushal is on a maiden test tour but has been scoring a good amount of runs for the A side and in domestic cricket,” Sangakkara said. “One of them is going to get the first game.”

Sangakkara has some bitter memories from the last test tour to India in 2005 when Sri Lanka lost the second and third tests by huge margins.

This time around the skipper feels his team is better equipped with the mixture of youth and experience to fight against Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s Indian team.

“We have got … a good variation of pace and spin plus over seven or eight batsmen,” he said. “And all of them have been doing well in their own disciplines.”

The two other survivors from 2005 tour Thilan Samaraweera, Mahela Jayawardene have grown in confidence since then while ever reliable Muralitharan is there to mesmerize batsmen – maybe one last time on the Indian soil.

The strong Sri Lankan batting line-up will be challenged by fit-again paceman Zaheer Khan – recovered from shoulder injury – and temperamental Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, given one last chance to resurrect his international career.

Sri Lanka hasn’t played a test since its victory at home over Pakistan. India went down 4-2 to top-ranked Australia in a limited-overs international series which finished last week.

Lineups:

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

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