Challenge increases for Sri Lanka ahead of India series
GALLE, Sri Lanka (AP) An already tough year for the Sri Lankan cricket team is about to get more challenging as it hosts India for a three-test series.
The Sri Lankans were swept by South Africa in a three-test series before slumping to their first ever test defeat to Bangladesh.
A week ago, the Sri Lankans struggled to beat lowly-ranked Zimbabwe by four wickets in a one-off test after surrendering the five-match limited-overs series 3-2.
That's far from an ideal preparation for a series against top-ranked India beginning Wednesday.
Both teams are below full strength, with newly-installed Sri Lanka captain Dinesh Chandimal ordered to rest after being discharged from a hospital on Sunday with a case of pneumonia. India opener Lokesh Rahul was left behind in Colombo to receive treatment for a viral flu and will miss the opening test.
Veteran spinner Rangana Herath will lead Sri Lanka in Chandimal's absence while India was weighing up the options as to who will partner Abhinav Mukund in the absence of Rahul, who scored a pair of half centuries in his last test - the series-deciding win over Australia at Dharamsala in March.
Left-handed Shikhar Dhawan is the reserve opener, but India could push Cheteshwar Pujara up to open batting in a bid to play an additional bowler.
Chandimal's absence for Sri Lanka could mean a test debut for opener Danushka Gunatilleke, although Dhananjaya de Silva could be in for a recall.
Allrounder Asela Gunaratne, who was receiving treatment for a hamstring injury is expected to play.
The Galle match will mark India spinner Ravichandran Ashwin's 50th test, and he has fond memories of the venue after taking a 10-wicket haul the last time India played here two years ago. India won that series 2-1 and Ashwin was voted player of the series after finishing with 21 wickets.
Ashwin goes into the series requiring 25 more wickets to reach 300 in test cricket, a milestone achieved by only four other Indians. While the tourists will heavily reply on the off-spinner, Sri Lanka will look to 39-year-old left-arm spinner Herath for its inspiration.
Herath, who is 16 wickets shy of reaching 400 in tests, has bowled with great control but whether he has got the guile to deceive the Indian batsmen, who play spin well, remains to be seen.
The traditional Galle wicket tends to help spin bowlers and very rarely does a game here go to the fifth day. But the track prepared for the game that starts on Wednesday has a nice layer of grass cover and a high-scoring game could be expected if it goes the distance.
Despite their recent form, the Sri Lankans will take heart from their 3-0 win over Australia last year. The Aussies arrived in Sri Lanka in 2016 as the world's No. 1-ranked team but struggled against the spin bowlers.
''We have nothing to lose and we will look to the Australian series to gain inspiration,'' Herath said. ''In that series also we were in a similar situation whereas Australia were ranked No. 1.''
India skipper Virat Kohli didn't plan on taking rankings into account, either, particularly given Sri Lanka's recent slide down the order.
''We give equal respect to any opposition because you can be a strong or a weak side but this game is the same,'' Kohli said.
Sri Lanka (from): Rangana Herath (captain), Upul Tharanga, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Asela Gunaratne, Niroshan Dickwella, Dhananjaya de Silva, Danushka Gunathilaka, Dilruwan Perera, Suranga Lakmal, Lahiru Kumara, Vishwa Fernando, Malinda Pushpakumara and Nuwan Pradeep.
India (from): Virat Kohli (captain), Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Ravi Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Wriddhiman Saha, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Kuldeep Yadav, Abhinav Mukund and Shikhar Dhawan.
Umpires: Bruce Oxenford, Australia, and Richard Illingworth, England.
Television Umpire: Rod Tucker, Australia. Match Referee: Richie Richardson, West Indies.