Aug 8, 2008

Sport - Stage set for a fascinating finale

Colombo: Having broken gaol in the second Test, escaping the restraining order Sri Lanka had served at the SSC, India will look for a clean getaway in the third — perhaps not as fancy as the ones that involve cars careening around corners, sirens in tow, but a sound one all the same.

The prize involved — only India’s second Test series win in five trips across the Palk Straits — is worth staking everything on. Few sides defeat Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka; fewer still come back from behind to accomplish it.

“In terms of confidence, in terms of strategy, we have done whatever we can to ensure we win the Test and the series,” Anil Kumble, the Indian captain, said on Thursday.

Formidable leader

Kumble has proven a formidable leader, fashioning a Test side of quality and experience in his spirit: unyielding, combative, resilient. Before leaving to be with his ailing mother, Gary Kirsten, India’s coach, spoke of how the Indian team had regrouped after the innings-and-239-run defeat in the first Test — of how Kumble’s hurt had filtered to the rest of the side, supplying the men with the tonic they so badly required.

The enormity of the task entrusted to Kumble befits his stature: India has gone long without stringing two Test wins together, last achieving this in 2005, when it defeated Sri Lanka at Delhi and Ahmedabad; only once has India battled back from a 0-1 deficit to win a three-Test series.

“We’ve done that once against Australia in 2001, if I remember right, having been down one-nil," said Kumble. “That was in India. These are different conditions and all of us are looking forward to the challenge.”

Rich history

The P. Saravanamuttu Stadium, which will host the third Test at no charge to the Sri Lankan Cricket Board, lends itself to the contemplation of such heady thoughts. Not only does it enclose the country’s best cricket wicket (whose firmness some of the Indians ascertained by leaning on it on all fours), it possesses a rich history.

Sir Donald Bradman and the Invincibles were here in 1948. Evidence can be found in the tastefully done-up bar beside the pavilion. A sepia print of the Don, sola topi and rimmed spectacles, walking to the centre with Mahadevan Sathasivam, revered here as the finest of all time, is a reminder of the great deeds that have been enacted here.

Mahela Jayawardene, the Sri Lankan captain, was part of a recent one, scoring a century in the fourth-innings pursuit of 352 against South Africa in 2006. “That was a historical win for us. (But) this is going to be an interesting one, with everything to play for, after we have felt each other out in the first two.”

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