India head into the Test series against Sri Lanka with them placed fifth in the World Test Championship (WTC) table with four wins and three losses. The 2021-23 WTC cycle hasn’t exactly gone to plan for India so far with their series loss in South Africa a big morale blow, one that even affected the leadership core with Virat Kohli announcing his resignation as Test captain.
Rohit Sharma has stepped in seamlessly and has been recently announced as India’s long-term Test captain. The series against Sri Lanka will be his first assignment and there’s lot at stake for the last WTC cycle finalists. The home Test series is a chance for India to improve their position in the WTC table and they will want to win both Tests.
Sri Lanka, meanwhile, have played just two Tests this cycle and have won both, placing them top of the WTC table. However, Sri Lanka will know they are underdogs to win this fixture, especially given how strong India are at home.
India vs Sri Lanka, 1st Test
Punjab Cricket Association Stadium, Mohali
Head to head record heavily favours India
Since the turn of the century, India and Sri Lanka have met 24 times in Test cricket with India winning 13 Tests and a further five ending in a draw.
Sri Lanka have won only six Tests, the last of which came in Galle in 2015. What’s more daunting for Sri Lanka is that India have never lost a home Test to Sri Lanka. In 20 Tests, India have won 11 and drawn the remaining nine. That’s a pretty lopsided record which India would hope to take moral advantage of ahead of the upcoming series. It’s worth noting that India and Sri Lanka last played a Test series in India in 2017 and India won the three-match series 1-0 with Sri Lanka managing to draw two matches.
With India’s Test team going through a tough phase, Sri Lanka would hope to minimise the damage they suffer to their WTC points in this series. A result like in 2017 would actually work well for Sri Lanka despite what will be recorded as a series loss.
India’s terrific home record and Sri Lanka’s away troubles
India are the toughest opponents a team can face in Test cricket away from their home. India are beasts at home in the longer format of the game. They have lost only five Tests at home since the start of 2010, winning 41 of the 56 Tests despite facing some of the strongest teams in the circuit. Sri Lanka, meanwhile, have a dismal away record. Since 2000, Sri Lanka have lost nearly double the number of matches they have won away from home. Winning just 23 of the 90 Test matches away from home in this period, Sri Lanka have recorded 43 losses.
India have Virat Kohli returning to the Test team after skipping the limited-over games. Rishabh Pant too returns to the side while the Test squad named had big names Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha and Ishant Sharma dropped after unimpressive performances in recent times.
India will ponder over who their new middle-order batters are instead of Pujara and Rahane. Hanuma Vihari is expected to slot in at No.3 with Shreyas Iyer and Shubman Gill fighting for one spot at No.5. Mohammed Siraj is the favourite to take Ishant Sharma’s bowling spot although Umesh Yadav also has a fair claim.
Sri Lanka, meanwhile, have a hat-trick of Test wins up their sleeve and are looking better than ever in this format. The bowling attack has a solid look with Praveen Jayawickrama, Wanindu Hasaranga and Lasith Embuldeniya in the mix. This will be their first Test since the retirement of veteran seamer Suranga Lakmal. It remains to be seen how they plug that hole.
India are favourites to win the Test with odds of 1.22 in favour of them given their strong squad, extremely good head-to-head record and dominance in home Tests. Sri Lanka have a fighting chance of 4.20 to pull off a draw, the chances of which are quite slim anyway as the odds suggest.
Who will win the Man of the Match?
Rohit Sharma has had a great time as Test opener since taking up the new role in the previous WTC cycle. With runs in England and Australia, Rohit has established himself as India’s new Test No.1 batter. Rohit has 1462 runs in 16 Tests at an average of 58.48 including five hundreds, one of which is a double ton, since his return to the Test side in 2019. With him in charge of the Test team for the first time, Rohit will be keen to make an impact. In home Tests, he averages 79.52 and as such Rohit has odds of 3.50 to be the Man of the Match in this fixture.