Five areas India needs to focus in Sri Lanka

Last Updated: Sat, Jul 22, 2017 18:28 hrs
Virat Kohli and co. will look to come up with a dominating show against Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan cricket is in a state of disarray at the moment. They suffered the ignominy of losing the ODI series to Zimbabwe 3-2 and huffed and puffed their way to a win in the solitary Test. They also had a disappointing Champions Trophy where they failed to qualify for the semi-finals. However, they are a very good team at home.

India would be wise to treat them with respect and not go into the Test series thinking that the series is already in the bag.

India has had a dream run in the last one year in Tests winning 10 out of 13 Tests at home and vanquishing four opponents. However, a true test of a team is to win abroad.

Only then can the team led by Virat Kohli be considered among the great Indian teams. Although Virat Kohli and his men are a formidable side, there are still certain areas where they need to identify their best personnel and also fine tune their strategy and the combination they intend playing when they tour places like South Africa, England and Australia.

While the playing XI should always be finalized looking at the opposition and the pitch, most good teams will always have a framework in mind.

So, while, India should first concentrate on beating the Lankans in the Test series, they should also iron out certain flaws and become a team that would be force to reckon with when they tour overseas.

Here are certain areas that the Indian team need to address before they tour overseas.

Worries regarding the opening positions 

India's two regular openers are Murali Vijay and KL Rahul although one can't discard Shikhar Dhawan. While Rahul is one for the future, Vijay who was originally chosen for the tour of the Emerald Isle has been withdrawn from the Test squad due to injury.

Shikhar Dhawan has been recalled for the tour because of his good form in ODIs. Abhinav Mukund was originally chosen as the reserve opener in the touring party and it remains to be seen who will be partner Rahul in the playing XI.

India will definitely select three openers for the South African tour and the start given by the openers will be crucial to India's chances in the Test series as the conditions in South Africa will be conducive for the quick bowlers. The absence of Vijay from the Sri Lankan series is a golden opportunity to see whether Mukund still has the hunger to perform at the international level or whether Dhawan makes the cut.

Both players should be tried out to see who will tour the rainbow nation as the third opener.

Top two spinners in the playing XI, overseas 

Kuldeep Yadav made a dream debut in the fourth Test against Australia at Dharamsala taking 4/68 in the first innings and even outshone Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.

However, India can at most play two spinners in the playing XI in South Africa. While Ashwin is almost certain to be one of them, Kuldeep should be persisted with in Sri Lanka to see if he has the ability to force his way into the playing XI in South Africa.

A good wrist spinner, especially one who is difficult to pick is always an asset particularly on unresponsive pitches and Kuldeep's performance in Sri Lanka will show if he can oust Jadeja and take the second spinners slot.

This is vital because both Ashwin and Jadeja have underwhelming records outside Asia.

Establishing the pecking order for India's pace bowlers 

Never before in India's Test history, has there been such an abundance of talent and depth in the fast bowling department.

Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar are the four frontline seamers while Hardik Pandya is a useful all-rounder who can bowl at 140kmph.

But Ishant Sharma has not made the most of his chances while Bhuvneshwar has delivered whenever he has played. While Yadav and Shami are almost certain to make the playing XI in South Africa, Bhuvi should be given an opportunity in the Sri Lankan series as he brings something different to the table with his ability to swing both the old and the new ball.

Jasprit Bumrah has not been chosen in the Test squad for the Sri Lanka but has emerged as India's premier pace bowler in ODIs and T20Is. He should also be kept in the reckoning.

Glenn McGrath recently lavished praise on Basil Thampi calling him a great prospect and said that he possesses a devastating yorker. India should select their pace bowlers on potential and current form rather than just going by seniority.

They should have a clear vision and identify their four best pacers before they meet the Proteas.

Clarity on the number six position and Rohit Sharma

India's bane on overseas tours has been their batting and they may decide to go in with six batsmen in the playing XI, if they feel they need the security of an extra batsman.

Rohit Sharma has been the player to bat at the number six position but he has not played Tests for almost a year. Kohli has always been a staunch advocate of playing five batsmen and five bowlers and the only time he has deviated from this theory has been to accommodate Rohit in the playing XI.

The brains trust of the team has to decide if Rohit might be the sixth batsman in South Africa and if so, they need to play him in the tour of the Emerald Isle as well as it would be unfair to him, and expecting too much of him to directly induct him in the playing XI without giving him a chance in Sri Lanka.

Identify the best slip fielders

Ajinkya Rahane is India's best slip fielder and always stands in that position to the spinners. However, when the fast bowlers are in operation, India have played a game of musical chairs trying out different players in that position.

Fielding in the slips needs immense concentration and a safe pair of hands and specialists should be made to field in that position. In India's long home season, players like Kohli, Jadeja, Vijay and Nair all dropped catches.

In South Africa, there will be a lot of opportunities in the slips and if chances are grassed then it will demoralize the bowlers and severely hamper India's chances if they are profligate in that area.

They need to have the same fielders in the slips and fine tune their skills before they tour South Africa. If they can work on these areas, then they might register their first Test series win on South African soil.

The author tweets @ravivenkat007

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