India Can Smartly Utilise the Series vs SL to Prepare for SA Tour
If India plays this series in spinning conditions, then they would harm their prospects on the tour of South Africa.
After hammering Australia and New Zealand in coloured clothing, Virat Kohli and his men are ready to get back into the longer format. Sri Lanka, our friendly neighbour, who are always there to play against us, is again scheduled for a series.
If this trend continues, then players from both sides will be eligible to apply for permanent residences in their rival countries! Virat Kohli would know more about restaurants in Galle than in his hometown Gurugram.
Four months ago, the Indian team was in Sri Lanka, and the competition was quite lopsided. India out batted, out bowled, and out fielded Sri Lanka to win their second Test series in Sri Lanka comprehensively in the span of last two years. Both the series were won under the Virat Kohli-Ravi Shastri combination.
This young Sri Lankan side has taken a bit too long to recover from the retirement of their greats such as Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Muttiah Muralitharan. The recent humiliation against India came as a big blow to the young side. But they recovered some pride by beating Pakistan recently. Sri Lanka defeated Pakistan 2-0 in a two-match Test series in October.
On the other hand, India under Virat is a team on a surge, dominating most of the sides at home and two away tours of Sri Lanka and West Indies.
However, the real battle starts after this tour. Just after this series, India would be travelling to South Africa, and this team is certainly looking to elevate their status in world cricket. In the familiar conditions, they have proved their supremacy by trouncing every challenge that has come their way.
Teams like South Africa, England and Australia have been defeated at home, and now these sides would be waiting for their turn to test India in their conditions. Since India have been a dominant force at home, the entire cricketing world will be waiting to see India’s performance in unfavorable conditions.
Not that the current Indian team isn’t aware of what they would face away from home. The likes of Cheteshwar Pujara and company have had their fair share of disappointment in all these countries. But experience and exposure have added few layers to their game.
India would be aiming to utilise the Test series against Sri Lanka as a platform to prepare for the series against South Africa. If India plays this series in typical spinning conditions, then they would harm their prospects on the tour of South Africa, where they won't have much time to adjust to their fast and swinging conditions.
In 2016, around the same time at the very same ground, India were up against New Zealand who had pace and swing in their bank, with the likes of Tim Southee and Trent Bolt in their team. The wicket of the Eden Gardens looked more like the one at Eden Park, Auckland. But the Indians didn’t allow the Kiwi’s to feel at home and won that match convincingly.
The other incident was early in 2017, in a bitterly fought series against Australia. When Dharamsala hosted its first Test match, an outstanding track that had seam, swing, bounce, and bit of grip for the spinners was rolled out. With the likes of Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar in top form, India dominated the Test match and won the series.
These two matches gave the team the belief that this they can overcome any given situation in any given condition. They have fast bowlers to rattle the opposition, batsmen who are equally good on the front foot and back foot, and relish fast bowling.
The Indian team also has spinners who have matured enough to dominate in friendly conditions and contain in unfavorable conditions.
So even if India has to do this intentionally, they shouldn’t shy away from spicing up the wickets a bit. Playing on good hard surfaces against a side that has gained some confidence by beating Pakistan in their previous tour can give them some idea about the balance of their team, and any area they need to work upon, before they face the first ball of Test cricket in 2018.
In fact, Kolkata and Nagpur can make good wickets to help India to test themselves. And let’s hope that the Feroz Shah Kotla in December could offer some bounce and swing.
So the idea is simple. The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war. Playing against Sri Lanka should be treated as a practice series for the tour of South Africa.
(Nishant Arora is an award-winning cricket journalist, and most recently, the media manager of the Indian Cricket Team. He also co-authored the best-selling book on Yuvraj Singh’s battle with cancer.)
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