India will need to play spinners well: Sanjay Manjrekar

GALLE: Test victories in Sri Lanka are a rare commodity, especially for India. Stringing a couple of them together has never been achieved by an Indian side in 30 years.

India might have been frequent visitors to their neighbours country since 1985 but have never quite managed to figure out how to beat the Islanders. Their only Test series win in Lanka was achieved under the leadership of Mohammed Azharuddin, back in 1993 – a 1-0 triumph.

As Virat Kohli & Co embark on India’s first Test series in the Emerald Isles after 2010, they would be thinking that the elusive feat is not far from their reach. Sri Lanka look the shadow of the side that were believed to be Lions at home.The myth was comprehensively shattered by Pakistan recently.

No wonder there is an air of anticipation around India and hope brewing back home. “I think it is India’s best chance to beat Sri Lanka in a series since 1993. The Lankans have been going through a batting and bowling transition, which is rare in international cricket. Virat Kohli must fully utilise this golden opportunity,” former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar told TOI.

Former India and Delhi opener Aakash Chopra concurs with Manjrekar, calling this series a litmus test for Kohli’s captaincy. “India have got a new captain, who has his own direction and plan. Kohli leadership will be judged based on his performance in this series,” Chopra said.

Ironically, India, who always had some of the of the finest players of spin bowling in their ranks, have struggled to tackle slow bowling in Lanka. Muttiah Muralitharan, Ajantha Mendis and even Suraj Randiv have managed to trip them on home turf.

“The key for India will be to play spin well. Their recent record against spin has not been convincing and this can come back to haunt them on this tour,” Manjrekar feels.

Kohli has voiced his desire to head into the series with preferably five bowlers at his disposal. “I don’t think the number matters very significantly. One of India’s problems over the years has been that they don’t have 2-3 world-class bowlers in their line-up at the same time. Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh was the last such potent combination. That is one of the reasons why they have struggled to pick up 20 wickets overseas,” he added.

Even Chopra wasn’t very optimistic by India’s current bowling strength. “I am not very ‘gung-ho’ about the Indian bowling. (Ravichandran) Ashwin has been bowling well and on turning tracks he’ll be a handful. Harbhajan though still hasn’t convinced me while Amit Mishra needs more zip in his bowling, so that the ball can carry to the slip fielder on these dead tracks,” he said.

One of the biggest plus point for India is that the series is in the sub-continent. “The last one year has been tough for India. They had difficult tours to New Zealand and Australia but I am still optimistic about our batting resources,” the former Mumbai batsman said.