Ahead of their first full series in India since 2009, Sri Lanka have arrived in the country with a bagful of trivia material and scores to settle.
It is one thing that the last of their 17 Tests in India came eight years ago, but quite another that Sri Lanka haven’t won even one of those dating back to 1982. Only two survivors – Angelo Mathews and Rangana Herath – remain from the side that went down 2-0 in the three-Test series in 2009, but it isn’t as if members of the current squad are without scars.
After all, it was only around August that Sri Lanka were blanked 9-0 across formats at home by a dominant India side. Between then and now, Sri Lanka had a rollercoaster ride in the UAE, where, after a surprise takedown of Pakistan to sweep the two-match Test series, they lost all the eight limited-overs matches on tour. And so, Sri Lanka have to reset and start from scratch as their young squad, led by Dinesh Chandimal, braces for a bruising examination from an India side that has proved to be near-invincible at home in the recent years. Coach Nic Pothas, though, insisted that the team’s culture had changed for the better. More pointedly, he stressed on the need to not be “infatuated” with India’s strengths and focus on Sri Lanka’s game plans instead.
“The mistake you can make here is come and be infatuated with the Indian side and concentrate too much on them,” Pothas said on the team’s arrival in India. “We know they are a good side. We only played them a month ago. We have to concentrate on our strengths and jobs, and if we can execute them well it will be a challenging series.
“There are not too many people who have the joy of playing India back to back. It’s always a pleasure to come here and challenge ourselves against a very, very good team. I think where we have changed is the culture within group. When we took on India [in Sri Lanka], we were all pretty new from the support staff to the players involved. We are now a team that pride ourselves in our culture. We defend it and we focus on ourselves.”
Pothas said the thrashing at home from India had proved to be a sound learning experience, and that the team had absorbed those lessons. “The series against India was a huge learner for us. I also mentioned that if we didn’t learn from a very good team then that would have been the biggest error. We did go back to the lessons we learnt – what India does very, very well and the areas we needed to improve.
“It was a complete different [Test] series against Pakistan. It was 41 degrees and they had lost two legends. That probably made things a little bit easier for us. But the India team is very settled team and all their players are their peak. So it’s a completely different challenge, especially here in India. Not many teams have come here in the last few years and won. But what changed for us is internally – the discipline, the culture and how the teams stuck together, the characters that we have picked. As much as the skill and preparation has changed, what we have done internally has changed as well.”
Captain Chandimal, playing his first Test series in India, said the team had been working hard at practice. He also said the batting group had plans to counter the spin threat posed by R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja but did not divulge what those were. “This is my first Test tour to India,” he said. “It’s a really good challenge for each and every one. As I said, we are doing hard work at practice sessions, especially before coming here, in Bangkok, we did so much hard work at practice. I am sure you can see the new faces – Dasun Shanaka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Roshen Silva, and also Sadeera [Samarawickrama]. I’m sure they will be up for the challenge and do their best in the tournament.
“Against Pakistan, we played six batters and five bowlers that worked really well, especially in the heat it was never easy to play four bowlers and win a game. If you are playing against India… they have got some really good bowlers, so we need to think about that allrounder position. We will look at the pitch and come up with our plans.”