IPL: Indian Premier League 2009

Plenty to prove in heavyweight clash


mendisHis wife, his brother, his coach. An old forgotten supersinger, an old Bollywood superstar, almost every popular athlete in the country, almost every coach he has worked with, cricketers from his country, cricketers from other countries, writers from his country, writers from other countries, astrologers, designers, doctors, hair stylists, almost everyone who has had something to do with him has been interviewed for the occasion. Amid this hullabaloo it is almost forgotten that we are just a day away from what the man who has played international cricket for 20 years yearns for the most. A Test series. Finally there is one for Sachin Tendulkar and for India. And the Sri Lankans, rated No. 2 in Tests by the ICC, do we even know they have been in the country for a week now?

And it’s a mean series, this. Sri Lanka may never have beaten India in India, but they caused the home side’s famed batting line-up enough embarrassment last year to provide a nice delicious previous to this series. There are a few men in the Indian middle order, thinking payback after the loss in 2008. The cast hasn’t changed much either: Muttiah Muralitharan is there, so is Ajantha Mendis; Rahul Dravid, Tendulkar and VVS Laxman are all there. Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble are missing, but they are replaced by two younger men just as eager to prove their credentials. One rating point separates the sides in ICC rankings.

Last year in Sri Lanka, Mendis and Murali took 47 wickets between them, in three Tests and for 945 runs, to bring India down to their knees. All other bowlers from both the sides combined to take 48. Things have changed since then. Mendis has played six more Tests, and added just 16 wickets to that tally of 26. Against Pakistan at the P Sara Oval he bowled more bad balls in one session than he did all series against India. But it was India that started the demystification of Mendis in the ODI leg of that tour. This will be Mendis’ chance - his bowling much more comprehensible now - to prove he can still be an effective bowler.

This will be Murali’s last chance to get rid of a millstone. Despite that dream series in 2008, Australia are the only side against whom his career figures are worse: he averages 30 against India, against 22 overall. Australia is the only country where he averages worse: in India each of his 31 wickets has cost him 40 runs. And it has little to do with conditions: Murali has done better in places like England and South Africa, which assist spinners far less. Almost every visiting spinner has had a hard time in India, and Murali will want to strike out one of the few question marks left in his achievements.

The anomaly persists with the Sri Lankan team as a whole too. They are No. 2 in the world, but are yet to win a Test in Australia, South Africa and India. They are one of the better Sri Lankan sides to have toured India, but they know they won’t be able to move to No. 1 without winning a series here, and not just a Test. For that their batting, inexperienced in Indian conditions, will have to deliver the kind of consistency it shows in Sri Lanka. Only four of them have played Tests previously in India - three each on the 2005 tour - and none of them have scored a century here. Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Thilan Samaraweera can’t afford to have a similar series. Dilshan and Samaraweera, though, have since then transformed into completely different batsmen: surer of their place and their skill, and hugely more successful.

They know that in head to head with the corresponding batting line-up, they are up against it. But have we realised that there is a remote chance we are seeing Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman play Tests in India for the last time? Because the Indian board hasn’t planned any Tests at home until the end of next year, when India go to South Africa. And then it will be the year of the World Cup. Who knows who will make what career decision then? Okay this is an alarmist view, but the trio have very few home series left in them. Before they go, they would want to, even if for just one day, see India at the top of the Test table, but they are not being helped by the scheduling.

The most intriguing reason to watch this series, though, should be the spin face-off. Both sides have three spinners each in their squads, and going by the make-up of their squads at least two each should play in each of the Tests. Harbhajan Singh will be keenly watched. He has been slightly enigmatic over the last year and a half. Superb in Tests in Sri Lanka, and remarkable in unfriendly conditions in New Zealand, he has somehow tended to be just a restrictive bowler in a majority of his limited-overs matches. Being India’s No. 1 Test spinner, he will have to lift his game again, quickly. It will be interesting to see how he reacts to a slip, a leg gully, a silly point and a forward short leg.

What sights they will be. All we need is nice, bouncy tracks, and there will be two spinners on either side testing the batsmen. Here’s to fielders in close-in positions most of the time, lots of rough, slips taking diving catches, umpires being tested on many bat-pad calls and being distracted by huge crowds appealing along with Indian bowlers, Murali signing off with one last memorable duel with Indian batsmen. And, there’s Zaheer Khan coming back, there’s Nuwan Kulasekara and Thilan Thushara looking to build on strong performances in home Tests. And Sehwag and Dilshan will be opening the respective innings. If all goes right, there might not be much time to draw breath during this series, like there wasn’t in 2008.
Source:Cricket News

Image Source: Cricinfo

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