India hope to end a 22-year wait for a Test series win in Sri Lanka when the three-match rubber marking Kumar Sangakkara’s farewell opens in Galle on Wednesday (12).
The Sri Lankan batting great, whose 12,305 runs make him Test cricket’s leading scorer among those still playing, is due to quit international cricket after playing in the first two Tests.
Indian captain Virat Kohli said his team plans to give 37-year-old Sangakkara a fond farewell – but also make sure they do not allow the prolific left-hander to pile up big scores.
“Great man and a great cricketer, he deserves a very good farewell and we will prepare accordingly,” Kohli said of Sangakkara. “But hopefully we will also get him out cheaply.”
The tourists will not be distracted by the hype over Sangakkara’s farewell series as they bid to end a barren phase in Sri Lanka since the 1-0 victory by Mohammad Azharuddin’s men in 1993.
India have played four series on the island since, losing in 2001 and 2008 while drawing in 1997 and 2010.
Kohli, regarded as one of the most accomplished batsmen in the modern game, is determined to make a winning start in his first full series as captain after taking over from Mahendra Singh Dhoni in Australia last year.
India will be relieved at playing Test cricket in familiar subcontinental conditions after losing four series in a row in South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia.
“We are here to play good cricket,” Kohli said, downplaying India’s poor overseas record. “History and records are sidelined when the focus is on playing good cricket.
“For us, every series is part of the plan to build a really strong unit that will continue to play for a long time. The prime focus is to back ourselves to execute our skills and have a really competitive side.”
Like India, Sri Lanka too are rebuilding following the retirement of greats such as Muttiah Muralitharan and Mahela Jayawardene, leaving Sangakkara to hold fort in his last two Tests.
Sri Lanka were undone by Pakistani leg-spinner Yasir Shah during the recent home series where his 24 wickets in three matches fashioned a 2-1 win for the tourists.
Yasir’s success prompted the Indian selectors to recall leggie Amit Mishra after a four-year absence to bolster a spin attack that comprises two seasoned off-spinners in Ravichandran Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh.
Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews acknowledged Yasir as making the difference for Pakistan, but hoped his team was prepared to face what the Indians had in store.
“Ours is a young side and learning all the time,” he said. “It’s unfair to measure these youngsters against the likes of Mahela and Sangakkara.
“We have to be patient with this side. The best farewell we can give Sanga is by being competitive and playing to the best of our abilities. The results will take care of themselves.”
Meanwhile, India opener Murali Vijay will miss the first Test against Sri Lanka with a hamstring injury, team director Ravi Shastri said on Monday.
The 31-year-old sustained the niggle in Zimbabwe during India’s recent limited-over series there and did not bat in either innings of India’s only warm-up match ahead of the Galle Test.
“Murali Vijay will not be fit for the first Test. He has not fully recovered and we don’t want to take a chance,” Shastri told reporters.
In his absence, Shikhar Dhawan is set to open the innings with the 23-year-old Lokesh Rahul who has played only two Tests.
“It’s a big blow,” Shastri said of the injury to Vijay, who averages 41.75 after 32 tests and is one of India’s most consistent batsmen in recent times.
“He is the in-form player, had a fabulous run in Test cricket. He has the ability to play the long innings as he has shown. He will be missed.”
Shastri was non-committal about the chances of Cheteshwar Puajra, once considered an automatic selection at number three before a slump in form set in.
“We will have to play the best five batsmen. If he fits into that five, he plays; if he doesn’t, he doesn’t play,” the former India Test player said.
The first Test at the Galle International Stadium and the second at the P Sara Oval in Colombo from August 20 will be played on either side of Sri Lanka’s parliamentary elections on August 17.
The third and final Test will be held at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo from August 28.