As afternoon turned into early evening on Tuesday, not even an inch of green turf was visible at the picturesque Galle International cricket stadium. Situated on the banks of the Indian Ocean, every single patch of playing area was covered in tarpaulin. Puddles of water -some large, some small -were scattered all over it.
If and when the covers come off on Wednesday for the first Test, it will be time to reboot for Indian cricket. For one, not a single top-five batsman from India has played a Test in Sri Lanka. In addition, they have a new skipper in Virat Kohli who brings in a fresh, carefree brand of leadership that will be put to the litmus test against the Lankans.
Then there is the emotional matter of bidding adieu to Galle’s favourite son Kumar Sangakkara. Everywhere you see around the ground, there is only one man to be seen -Sangakkara. His giant posters are all over the place. One of them even has his international record on it. The southpaw has a special relation with this venue. This is where he made his debut against South Africa in 2000. This is where he scored his first Test hundred -incidentally against India in 2001 -and this is where he made his captaincy debut in 2009 as well.
“It’s my favourite Test ground. I think as players, we love coming here because we know the conditions. We have always backed ourselves here and we are taken care of extremely well by all ground authorities. All the boys come here looking forward to a really good Test, weather permitting, and it’s always got crowds coming in. It’s a great backdrop to play in,” a visibly emotional Sangakkara said on the eve of the match.
The 37-year-old has shown no signs of slowing down, averaging over 71 in Test cricket in the last year. A farewell party, though, will be the farthest thing from Kohli’s mind when both sides take the field.
“The plan has always been pretty basic. It’s about creating pressure. In the last ODI series we played in India, we had one or two plans against him that worked for us. He is someone who scores consistently and can get big runs. It’s his last two games and he would like to leave a very significant mark before he goes,” Kohli said. The problem with throwing caution to the proverbial wind is often the threat of severe repercussion if the move backfires. Kohli has chosen an uber-aggressive approach, one that has been rarely tried at home, let alone abroad.
In a little over a year’s cricket, India are yet to win a Test series -although they have lost only away from home -and the solution the team has come up with is to discard one batsman in favour of an extra bowler.
The heavy rains over the last few days means Team India has hardly had any time to get used to conditions here. Even practice on match eve was cancelled after another heavy shower around noon. “It’s (no practice) probably a good thing. We have had five-six days of good practice. Even yesterday, with whatever we had at the nets, the intensity was up there and the guys prepared really well. The day before the game is always a light session,” Kohli said.
In the Lankan camp, skipper Mathews will be battling through the pain barrier to play in this Test match. “I have a ligament tear in my left wrist, so I’ll have to go through with the pain,” he said.