On Tuesday, two days before the first Test, ticket counters at Eden Gardens wore a deserted look. On Wednesday, as the skies opened up and the ground went under wraps, no one bothered to open the windows until late in the day. There’s apparently more interest in the ongoing Kolkata Film Festival than the first Test between India and Sri Lanka, commencing on Thursday. And the incessant rain was further bad news for what is already a low-key series.
A bleak weather forecast for the next two days puts a serious question mark over the scheduled start. According to the local Met office, a “deep depression is currently positioned at west-central Bay of Bengal” and moving towards south Orissa. And the whole of south Bengal, including the state capital, is bearing the brunt.
Fans’ apathy towards the match comes from an overdose of India-Sri Lanka fixtures and also the lopsided nature of the contests. India’s superiority over their opponents in every department somewhat snuffs out excitement.
Position by position and player by player, India are far better. Take the opening slot, where the hosts have an excess of riches, with KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan and a fit-again Murali Vijay vying for two places. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, appear a tad unsure about their opening combination despite the fact that Dimuth Karunaratne has been in excellent form.
Three months ago, during the home Tests against India, Sri Lanka had opened their batting with Karunaratne and Upul Tharanga. Then, in the away series against Pakistan, Kaushal Silva had paired up with Karunaratne. Both Tharanga and Silva are excluded from the current touring party and it’s likely that Sadeera Samarawickrama would be Karunaratne’s new opening partner.
India’s middle order boasts of Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane. Sri Lanka can only offer Angelo Mathews in terms of matching the reputation and experience. Mathews will bat at No. 4 but his dodgy calf, which forced him to miss the Tests against Pakistan, remains a concern. The former Sri Lanka captain is ruled out as a red-ball bowler.
In Wriddhiman Saha, India have a world-class wicketkeeper. They also have Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar – three pacers likely on a hard and greenish pitch – to take care of fast bowling, and R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja – not to mention Kuldeep Yadav – to look after the spin department.
Sri Lanka’s pace trio of Lahiru Gamage, Suranga Lakmal and Vishwa Fernando are a long way away from reaching that exalted level. Rangana Hearth, even at 39 years of age, is consistent and well respected as a tweaker but this Eden strip will hardly offer him any assistance.
Overall, it’s a David and Goliath story and only a super miracle can make the former triumphant here.
A silver lining
A truncated Test match, however, will allow Sri Lanka some breathing space and scope for a fight. When India whitewashed the Islanders in their lair, two Test matches were finished inside four days, while the third lasted three days.
The victory margins read: India won by 304 runs, India won by an innings and 53 runs and India won by an innings and 171 runs. Sri Lanka were defensive from the outset and half the battle had been lost there. In a rain-shortened match, the underdogs might play more freely, without the fear of losing the game.
Also, in damp conditions, if they get a chance to bowl first, pressure can be built. Still, India at home is a different ball game despite the fact that Sri Lanka gained confidence from their 2-0 Test series win against Pakistan.
Fair play to Sri Lanka captain Dinesh Chandimal, who sounded positive. Asked about the areas his team tried to address after the home series loss against India, he said: “We just tried to play five bowlers. If you are playing against a good team, you need to take 20 wickets.
That’s the one area we are looking at, and the fielding. We need to keep our energy throughout the five days. We improved on those areas and look forward to implement that (improvements) here.”
Cyclonic weather could help Chandimal’s team compete. From the fans’ perspective, however, an India-Sri Lanka cricket overdose is steadily killing the charm. Even Virat Kohli didn’t deny that. A full series in Sri Lanka in July-August-September followed by another full series in India in November-December is overkill.
To offer context to bilateral series and to deal with dwindling stadium attendances, the ICC, in-principle, has approved a nine-team Test league from 2019. For the time being, though, India will be keen to notch up another series win, starting on Thursday. Only if the heavens permit, though.