By Sudipto Ganguly
MUMBAI, India (Reuters) – Sri Lanka have never won a Test in India and with Virat Kohli’s men on a run of near-flawless home form the visitors are unlikely to break their duck in a three-match series starting in Kolkata tomorrow.
In a bumper home season, which started in September 2016, India won 10 of 13 Test matches, with their solitary defeat coming against Steve Smith’s Australia.
Even on home ground Sri Lanka have struggled against India, losing 9-0 across all three formats in July and August.
Under Kohli, the world’s top-ranked Test side have won eight consecutive series dating back to 2015, and Sri Lanka look incapable of stopping them from winning a ninth, to tie England and Australia for the record for most consecutive Test series wins.
After being hammered at home by India, Sri Lanka then won a two-Test series against Pakistan 2-0 in the United Arab Emirates but subsequently lost all eight limited-overs matches against the same opponents.
Their Test record in India inspires little confidence as they have failed to record a single victory in 17 matches, the last of which was played eight years ago.
Former captain Angelo Mathews and spin spearhead Rangana Herath were the only two current squad members who played a part in that 2009 series and Sri Lanka will lean on them heavily once again.
Sri Lanka coach Nic Pothas hopes the players have learnt from the recent home series whitewash but wants them to focus on their own strengths instead of the Indian threat.
“The mistake you can make here is come and be infatuated with the Indian side and concentrate too much on them,” Pothas said on the team’s arrival in India.
”We know they are a good side. We played them only a month ago. We have to concentrate on our strengths and jobs, and if we can execute them well it will be a challenging series.
“The series against India was a huge learner for us. I also mentioned that if we didn’t learn from a very good team then that would have made the biggest error.”
DUAL SPIN THREAT
While Sri Lanka’s bowling attack must find a way to stop the likes of Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara from scoring heavily, their batsmen will have to contend with India’s dual spin threat of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
Most sides have found off-spinner Ashwin and left-armer Jadeja too hot to handle but Sri Lanka might be in for an even rougher ride with the pair likely keen to prove a point after being overlooked by selectors for India’s limited-overs sides.
While good news is in short supply for Sri Lanka they will at least be thankful for not having to face 24-year-old all-rounder Hardik Pandya, who is being rested having played non-stop from the Champions Trophy in June.
Pandya made his Test debut in the series in Sri Lanka and made a big impact, hitting a maiden fifty and hundred while taking four wickets with his medium pace bowling.
Many have touted the series against Sri Lanka as a chance to prepare for a tough tour to South Africa at the end of the year but India wicketkeeper-batsman Wriddhiman Saha said the hosts were focused on only one team.
“It’s not like the Sri Lanka series is to prepare for South Africa,” Saha told reporters. “It’s a standalone series.
”Every Test is a challenge, and we will take it match by match, as a team and as individuals.
“Once this gets over, we will worry about South Africa and the challenge it brings.”
After Eden Gardens hosts the first Test, the two sides will travel to Nagpur and Delhi for the second and third matches.