S. Ram Mahesh

Colombo: The historic P. Saravanamuttu Stadium — where Sri Lanka played its first Test in 1982, and secured its first win in 1985 — appears poised to provide the three-match series a fitting finale.

The Indians, who practised here on Wednesday morning, will like the look of the playing strip. Few things deaden a cricketer’s soul as surely as the sight of a moribund pitch ahead of a crucial encounter. The third Test doesn’t begin till Friday, and divining how a wicket might play even on the first morning is an inexact exercise, but the signs here are encouraging.

The ground has a reputation of containing the truest track in Sri Lanka. Some locals go so far as to call it fast and bouncy (opinions that must be seen in the context of the country’s other strips, which are decidedly slow). But the reputation appears deserved the moment one enters the ground.

Vitality of soil

The wicket square is covered with lush grass — always an indication of the vitality of the soil. It’s also firm underfoot, compacted, the groundsman says, with pot clay, a composite of 40 to 50 per cent clay (this figure is usually higher than 60 per cent in grounds around the world that are noted for their pace and bounce).

“This looks a fine surface,” said Anuruddha Polonwita, who as National Curator supervises the preparation of all playing strips in Sri Lanka. “This wicket will have bounce. The spinners, the quicker bowlers and the batsman will all enjoy playing on it, a little bit of something for everybody.”

Polonwita said the strip will be shaved of its grass before the Test; the surface, however, is expected to hold together. India has played well recently on these kinds of surfaces. The batsmen enjoy the bounce for it aids strokeplay, while the seamers and the spinners are better armed.

The side had its first session after the departure of coach Gary Kirsten.

The session was directed by Venkatesh Prasad and Robin Singh, the bowling and fielding coaches respectively, and Paddy Upton, who is in charge of physical and mental conditioning.

Expertise

“There’s a lot of expertise within the team,” said Upton, asked about Kirsten’s absence. “There are five guys who have captained India, so it will just be a case of coordinating that expertise that’s already in the team. All players have been aware of their responsibility, of their roles in the team. Not only the players but also the management. It’s a just case of doing what we have always been doing.”

What was the support group telling the team ahead of the decisive third Test? “The key is to prepare as well as possible for every single game, every game is critical in Test cricket,” said Upton. “We are sitting at a really critical point now, one-all with one to play.

“Everyone knows how important it is. They don’t need too many reminders but we remind them anyway.”

Upton, who Jacques Kallis credited for refurbishing his mental approach, said it was heartening that India won at Galle despite none in the famed middle-order contributing a game-breaking performance.

Due for runs

“We really do have a strong batting line-up,” said Upton. “And there’s some batsmen due runs. Really, it’s a team game of a whole lot of individuals. So individually, each person needs to take some responsibility to do something to contribute to the win. Similarly, the team has got to pull together for it to win. We have got that individual approach as well as the team approach.”

Upton spent time with Dinesh Karthik, using cones to simulate nicks to the wicketkeeper standing up.

The glovesman, who is under pressure after two difficult Tests, appeared in far better touch than he has during these drills at other stages of the tour.

“He’s obviously going through a low, and I’ve spoken to him about it,” said Upton.

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