The Sri Lankan captain, Kumar Sangakkara, brought Muttiah Muralitharan — the team-man — to the fore here on Saturday.
“He needs eight more wickets to reach 800 but that would be furthest thing from his mind. Knowing him, he would be more keen to win the match for us,” said Sangakkara.
He quickly added, “If Murali gets those eight wickets in the Test, there is a good chance that we would go into the second Test 1-0 up.”
The cricket ground in Galle has geared itself for a fitting farewell to Muralitharan from Test match cricket. Hoardings, banners and paintings will celebrate the off-spinning giant's contribution to the game. And the Sri Lankan Cricket Board has planned a series of felicitations here.
Sangakkara highlighted Muralitharan's mental toughness. “It would be interesting to see how many other bowlers around the world could go through such rigorous testing, bowling with a cast on their arm, whether they can stand up to that scrutiny and come back from it with a stronger mind.”
The Sri Lankan captain said, “He (Muralitharan) has done so much for the team over the years. I think we can all do our little bit and win the Test for him.”
In the same breath, Sangakkara warned against his team from being distracted by the events surrounding Muralitharan's final Test. “We should focus on the job, not get overwhelmed by the occasion.”
Legendary cricketers go away but they leave the game enriched, Sangakkara said.
Looking ahead, he said Ajantha Mendis would figure in the second Test against India; Mendis had impressed in the tour game against the Indians.
“Bowlers llke Mendis and Malinga add something different to the mix. They have a lot to offer to the side.”
Sangakkara said Malinga had worked hard on his fitness and welcomed the paceman into the Test match scheme of things.
Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said Muralitharan was not just a great bowler, but a wonderful human being. “Just having him around in the dressing room is great fun. He gets everyone going. He lifts spirits,” said Dhoni who captained Muralitharan in the Chennai Super Kings side during the IPL.
Dhoni revealed, “During the first few matches I played against Sri Lanka, he was the mystery spinner. It is so hard to pick him.”
Turning his attention to the Indian attack, Dhoni hoped spin spearhead Harbhajan Singh would recover completely from a viral flu.
Despite their unflattering returns, Dhoni felt pacemen Ishant Sharma and Abhimanyu Mithun had bowled well in the tour game ahead of the first Test. “We had exaggerated fields for most part and they went for runs. But they did bowl in the right areas for most part.”
Dhoni admitted that the side would miss the experience of Zaheer Khan and the swing of S. Sreesanth. In their absence due to injuries, Dhoni also saw an opportunity for the younger pacemen.
“They must learn to use the conditions. There is some assistance early in the morning and in the evening due to the breeze from the sea.”
To pick 20 Sri Lankan wickets in the Test is a big ask for a depleted Indian attack.
Keywords: India-Sri Lanka Test series