PALLEKELE: There are few international cricket grounds in the world where the Indian team has not played a single Test.
Keen to get accustomed to this beautiful and state-of-the-art venue, where India have only played in an ODI and a T20 International back in 2012, as fast as possible, Virat Kohli & Co took little time to launch into a full-fledged practice session at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium here on Wednesday morning. Clearly, the Indians are salivating at the thought of a golden chance to ‘whitewash’ Sri Lanka on its home soil by winning the third Test which begins here from Saturday.
The hills in the backdrop, and the grassy banks on both sides of this ground make this stadium, located half-an-hour’s drive from Kandy, an eye-pleasing venue, and clearly the best in Lanka currently. The team had an intense net session at the wonderful outdoor facility behind the dressing room.
Chasing fitness, the Virat way
An example of how hard Kohli works on his fitness was visible when, after batting in the nets, and going through a slip-catching session (he’s missed a couple of sharp chances in this series so far), he summoned Shankar Basu, the strength and conditioning trainer of the team, to observe him, as he did a few sprints. The rest of the players were already in the confines of their dressing room, while the Lankans, who had arrived at the ground, for their practice, seemed to be in awe of the Indian captain’s dedication to his task.
Murali may give ‘home’ Test a miss
Apart from being a popular hill station in Sri Lanka, Kandy is also famous for ‘producing’ spin wizard Muttiah Muralitharan, Test cricket’s highest wicket-taker. ‘Murali,’ though, is likely to give this game a miss as he is supposed to play in a T20 tournament, which starts on Friday in Singapore.
Stadium worth every penny
The Pallekele stadium along with the one at Hambantota, was built for the 2011 ICC World Cup, which was jointly hosted by India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and the construction of these venues had left Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) in massive debt initially.
Before this venue, which has a seating capacity of 35,000, was inaugurated with a Test against West Indies in 2010, all international cricket used to be played at the Asgiriya Stadium. The last game at that ground, located in the heart of this town, ‘ was held in 2007, when the hosts played against England.
India last played a Test in Kandy at the Asgiriya Stadium back in 2001, when the then skipper Sourav Ganguly’s unbeaten 98 helped them chase 264 in the fourth innings to beat Sri Lanka by seven wickets.
There have been quite a few memorable knocks played by various batsmen at the new ground here. Who can forget Kiwi batsman Ross Taylor’s memorable assault (un beaten 131, including seven sixes) on the Pakistani bowlers, especially Shoaib Akhtar, during a 2011 World Cup game here? It’s the only venue in the world where three T20 International centuries -Tillakaratne Dilshan (104), McCullum (123) and Maxwell (145) -have been scored.
Talking about Test cricket, the innings that stands out here was played by Kusal Mendis, who had cracked 176 against the visiting Australians last year. It was the same game in which Lanka’s Lakshan Sandakan made his Test debut in style, taking seven for 107 -the best by a Chinaman bowler on Test debut.
At the moment, the wicket here sports a fair bit of grass, but that might just be shaved off before the game.