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Sri Lanka with an aim to spring an Indian surprise

Last updated on 02 Mar 2022 | 05:28 AM
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Sri Lanka with an aim to spring an Indian surprise

India haven’t lost a Test series at home in 11 consecutive series, will Sri Lanka spring a surprise?

The last time India lost a series at home, the year was 2013, iPhone 5s was the hot talk of the gadget town and India were still led by MS Dhoni. But in the last nine years, everything has changed but one thing has remained constant throughout that phase: India’s dominance at home. 

Australia came, challenged but was left reeling and England too, faced a similar finish last year. So, can Sri Lanka, whose last away Test win was against South Africa back in 2019, challenge India? The impetus would on a few shoulders to pull an improbable series win against India, in India. 

Sri Lanka’s mighty strength at the top

Just a few months back, India were on the receiving end of a Dean Elgar-masterclass in South Africa. And earlier at home, Tom Latham was a constant thorn in India’s plans. So, if history is suggestive of anything, it is India’s struggle against the left-handed opener. The core of Sri Lanka’s batting unit is captain and left-handed opener, Dimuth Karunaratne. 

While Pathum Nissanka might have done extremely well previously, Lahiru Thirimanne is expected to take the spot, on Friday. Sri Lanka’s numbers at the top, since the start of 2021, are the best numbers in Test cricket. While not only their openers average 55.1 runs/wicket, they bat 110.3 deliveries before getting out, which could pose as a huge threat for India. 

Not just that, Karunaratne is the second highest run-scorer in Test cricket, since 2021, with 902 runs, making him a vital cog of the Lankan outfit. Thirimanne, who missed Sri Lanka’s last Test against West Indies too features amongst the top-six openers in the longest format. It is where Sri Lanka’s heart of the batting lies, and they could really surprise India. 

Lasith Embuldeniya holds key for Sri Lanka

If Karunaratne is the leader with the bat for the Emerald Island, Lasith Embuldeniya has donned that leader role with the ball in hand. Since his debut in 2019, no other Sri Lankan player has taken as many wickets as the left-arm spinner, who has scalped 62 times, averaging just 33.3 with the ball. In 13 Tests, the 25-year-old has already picked up five five-wicket hauls, which shows his calibre.

While he may not have his partner-in-crime, Ramesh Mendis for the series (injured) but he will have the talented Praveen Jayawickrama, who shone on his Test debut. The left-arm spinner, on his Test debut against Bangladesh, picked up 11 wickets, and averages a miserly 18.22 in his Test career.

In the past, India have shown frailties against left-arm spinners, including Keshav Maharaj (at home), Jack Leach amidst the other left-arm tweakers. The last team that won in India, England, also used the left-arm spin of Monty Panesar to the best, which was then emulated by Australia with Steve O’Keefe.

Sri Lanka will be aiming to take a similar route, to challenge India’s throne at their very own den.

The Dhananjaya de Silva threat to India

Since 2019, there are only three Sri Lankan batters who have crossed the 1000 runs mark in the longest format – Dimuth Karunaratne, Dhananjaya de Silva and Niroshan Dickwella. Alongside that, de Silva’s numbers against spin, are the third-best in Test cricket (since 2019), only behind Ben Stokes and Mushfiqur Rahim. Until 2019, the right-hander was still averaging around the 30-35 mark. 

But since the start of 2020, he has picked up a rather stunning pace for Sri Lanka, showing his attacking prowess. In the last two years, the right-hander has scored 714 runs, including averaging 92 in 2020 and 58.88 in 2021, where he has scored twin hundreds.

Not just that, against spin, the right-hander only gets dismissed once in 102.1 deliveries, with only Travis Head having a better survival ratio. With Angelo Mathews too expected to play a crucial part in the middle-order, it would provide de Silva with the perfect groundwork to go explosive.

While not just with the bat, de Silva’s contribution with the ball also might come handy during the two-match Test series against India. 

Suranga Lakmal and the pace ‘X factor’ 

Now before we get to that, we already know that the second Test between the two sides will be a D/N Test in Bengaluru. In the debut pink-ball Test in the country, it was the Indian seamers, who picked up 19 out of the 20 wickets. Now that the influence of pacers in the country has been well established, let’s get to Sri Lanka’s pace unit. 

Barring Suranga Lakmal, who has played 68 Tests, the experience in the pace-unit is rather weak, which could be one of the differentiating factors. However, the likes of Lahiru Kumara, Chamika Karunaratne and Vishwa Fernando could all play a vital role during the series. Since 2019, in between Lakmal, Kumara and Fernando, Sri Lanka have 223 wickets, averaging in the mid-30s. India’s frailties against the new ball has been well exposed in the recent past, with India losing 39 wickets off the first new ball in the first 15 overs of Tests, since 2020. With Mohali the venue for the first Test, India would have to be wary of the threat posed by the Sri Lankan pacers.

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