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Onus on India to spoil Sangakkara farewell party

Fit-again Vijay, Binny set to be in visitors’ playing XI; Sri Lanka likely to bring in Chameera for Pradeep

Onus on India to spoil Sangakkara farewell party - Cricket News
Kumar Sangakkara will retire from international cricket after the second Test against India
A day before the second Test starts, the P Sara Oval was a beehive of activity. Posters and photographs of Kumar Sangakkara, small and big, were stacked neatly at the entrance leading to the Sri Lankan dressing room, red carpets laid out in the VIP stands, comfortable chairs put in place and dusted to a nicety. The sound of electric drills and shrill voices competed for cacophonous attention even as a harsh, unrelenting sun bore down remorselessly. It was a far cry from the calm serene of Tuesday only interrupted by the sound of bat striking ball and a thunderous downpour beating a rhythmic tattoo on the corrugated roofs.

Thursday (August 20) will mark the beginning of the end of a most illustrious international career. Five days on Sangakkara will walk into the sunset, leaving cricket poorer but also in a better space. There will be no shortage of emotion, there will be no shortage of drama, and there will be no shortage of attention and attendance. The whole of Colombo, it would appear, is desperate to see one of Sri Lanka’s favourite sons in action for one last time.

The Indians have already had an experience of what it is like to see a legend sign off. Virat Kohli was among those that watched from close quarters as Sachin Tendulkar bid adieu in November 2013 at the Wankhede, leaving everyone teary-eyed and with lumps in their throats after a moving speech at the conclusion of a straightforward home victory. Respectful as he is of Sangakkara, Kohli will also be hoping that the beginning of the end of the Sangakkara era will coincide with the beginning of the beginning of a whole new chapter in Indian cricket.

Angelo Mathews said winning the match would be the perfect way to see off the “backbone” of their team.

“He means everything to all of us,” said Mathews. “As a person, as a leader and as a player he has been unbelievable to all of us. “He has been nurturing the younger kids right throughout the system, he helps everyone on and off the field, and he is a real gentleman.
“He has been the backbone of Sri Lanka cricket, along with Mahela (Jayawardene) for so many years and I’ve been truly proud to play with him and to share a dressing room. The best thing we could do is win the series for him.”

Kohli was effusive in his praise too, saying he would remember the veteran batsman as a “lovely human being”.

“He has been a wonderful player for Sri Lanka. A lot of left-handers really look up to him for the way he plays. His technique and the way he has scored runs all over the world, his numbers speak for themselves.”

What can you say of a Test match where a team produced two centurions and a bowler who picked up a ten-wicket match haul, and yet ended up on the losing side? India had Sri Lanka by the scruff of its neck in Galle, only for Dinesh Chandimal and Rangana Herath to orchestrate a heist of epic proportions. The turnaround was as astonishing as the turnover time was near instantaneous. The result, as much as the manner in which it was achieved, will have lifted Sri Lankan spirits no end.

India will be without one of those two Galle centurions, what with Shikhar Dhawan having left for home with a hairline fracture in his right hand. Fortunately for it, M Vijay is all but certain to return to the playing XI after having sat out the Galle loss with a hamstring injury. Kohli was emphatic that a keen Vijay would play even if he was less than 100% fit; India badly missed his solidity as well as his enterprise in the second innings of the first Test, and while it would dearly have loved to have had Vijay and Dhawan opening the batting, it will gladly settle for Vijay and KL Rahul under the circumstances.

This enforced change apart, India is certain to make another tactical change. The team management read the pitch perfectly in Galle and went in with three spinners; the P Sara is more a pacers’ ally and India will revert to type with two spinners in the playing XI. That will mean at least a temporary exit for Harbhajan Singh, the least effective and impressive of the spinners in Galle, with Stuart Binny, a recent addition to the squad, set to return to Test cricket after one year on the sidelines.

Should he make the cut, Binny won’t be playing so much as the fifth bowler as a batsman who is more than a part-time bowler. There is some suggestion that Varun Aaron ought to make way for Bhuvneshwar Kumar as well, but in some ways, Binny and Bhuvneshwar are fairly similar bowlers.  

Sri Lanka will welcome back its own express bowler in Dushmantha Chameera, the wiry young man who is now fit again. Chameera will come in for Nuwan Pradeep, struggling with a hamstring injury as Sri Lanka intend to target India’s alleged fragility by adding more firepower to an attack that is already short neither on nous nor on skills.

Over the past few days, Kohli, Ravi Shastri and Amit Mishra have all at various stages waxed eloquent on the fearless cricket theme. India were undone by their own diffidence in Galle in another example of their inability to close out games. Just as winning is a habit, so is losing. India must dig deep to seize the moments and translate pockets of dominance into tangible results. If it is looking for inspiration, it need not look beyond Sangakkara. He didn’t start off as the boy wonder destined to rule the world, but he did rule the world through sheer bloody-mindedness and a work ethic second to none. And there is a massive learning in that.

Teams (from)
Sri Lanka: Kaushal Silva, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kumar Sangakkara, Lahiru Thirimanne, Angelo Mathews (capt), Jehan Mubarak, Dinesh Chandimal (wk), Dhammika Prasad, Tharindu Kaushal, Nuwan Pradeep, Rangana Herath, Upul Tharanga, Kusal Perera, Dilruwan Perera, Vishwa Fernando, Dushmantha Chameera.

India: M Vijay, KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli (capt), Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), R Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh, Stuart Binny, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Varun Aaron, Ishant Sharma, Amit Mishra, Umesh Yadav, Cheteshwar Pujara.

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