Don't discount Sri Lanka in India Test series

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Former India spinner Harbhajan Singh last week mocked the Sri Lankan team on social media, stating he “hope(s) they will revive and get to international level”.

The Sri Lankans are in India for a full tour shortly after having suffered a 9-0 thrashing across formats in their backyard.

Not many cricket enthusiasts are chomping at the bit to watch India take on Sri Lanka in three Tests, ODIs and T20s apiece. Even the Indian team is looking to give some players a break. All-rounder Hardik Pandya hasn’t been selected for the first two Tests while captain Virat Kohli is expected to be rested for the third Test and the subsequent limited overs series in December.

Harbhajan was quick to delete his tweet on the Sri Lankan team, which included this statement: “They are getting beaten by Zimbabwe… 1st inn 200 second inn 150. Sri Lankan team at their lowest so sad to see them like this”.

But the point had already been made and it is clear not many pundits expect anything less than a procession of comprehensive Indian wins, just like it was during the tour of Sri Lanka.

It is true India were a class apart in July-August but the scenario has changed since. This is not the same Sri Lankan team, at least in Tests.

Let’s not forget this Sri Lankan outfit blanked Pakistan 2-0 in the UAE last month. The same Pakistan team that had not lost a Test series at their UAE ‘home’ since moving base in 2010.

The driving force behind this rejuvenation is captain Dinesh Chandimal. Sri Lanka coach Nic Pothas is adamant this is a different Sri Lankan team after the setbacks against Virat Kohli’s men.

“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,” said Pothas.

Those aren’t statements thrown around just for the sake of it. Chandimal has ensured discipline and team culture are put ahead of everything else in the dressing room and it was evident in the way they stunned Pakistan in the UAE. Sure, Sarfraz Ahmed didn’t have Younis Khan and Misbah-ul Haq to bail the team out but it was nonetheless a special effort to score more than 400 in both Tests against an attack that had Mohammad Amir and Yasir Shah.

India will be a different challenge but supporters, like Harbhajan, shouldn’t get too carried away. The Indians haven’t had the greatest of records when some ‘big’ names have trolled the opposition.

Before the Champions Trophy final in England, former India opener Virender Sehwag had asked Pakistan fans to buy radio sets instead of television as “it won’t pinch their pockets if they have to break them” after Pakistan lose the June 4 clash. India won that contest but lost the final to the same opposition by 180 runs.

Sehwag had earlier made it a habit of belittling Bangladesh, calling the nation India’s “grandson” and an “ordinary side” on different occasions. In fact, Sehwag’s ordinary jibe in 2010 rankled Bangladesh players for a long time and they have since defeated India in an ODI series at home in 2015 and pushed India hard at the 2015 World Cup, 2016 World T20 and even at this year’s Champions Trophy.

Such name-calling and disrespectful behaviour might look great in the flashy world of social media but it discounts the possibility of an upset.

India are decidedly stronger than Sri Lanka but expectations should not reach ridiculous levels.

The islanders really don’t have much to lose. They lost an ODI series to Zimbabwe in June at home and then blanked Pakistan in Tests. The last thing you should do is discount the opposition. The game of cricket has a funny way of biting you in the back.

TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING

The UAE now seems to be brimming with top-class cricket acad-emies. Off-spinner Ravi Ashwin, wicketkeeper batsman MS Dhoni and former international Robin Singh will now nurture local talent in Dubai.

It was just last year that UAE cricketers received their first professional contracts. Not all national cricketers have a full-time central contract, but it is a start. Since serious cricketers in the UAE can now hope to make a proper career out of the game, it is therefore not surprising there are cricket experts in the market hoping to nurture local talent and help them reach the next level.

But having three academies launch within a span of a few months seems like a deluge. And there is every possibility more big names will look to set up shop in the UAE. Former captain Mohammad Azharuddin said academies are not of much use if they don’t produce cricketers who end up representing the country or at least become professional players.

Let’s see how many serious cricketers these academies produce.

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IN PICTURES: MS Dhoni launches his first cricket academy in the UAE

Sport360 staff 12/11/2017

India cricket star MS Dhoni inaugurated his first cricket academy in the UAE on Saturday, at the Springdales School in Al Quoz.

The event created a buzz as one of cricket’s biggest stars graced the occasion to officially launch the academy, which began operating a couple of months ago. Excited trainees and their parents were on hand to see Dhoni cut the ribbon and interact with the media.

Jointly launched by the Dubai-based Pacific Sports Club and Aarka Sports Club, the MS Dhoni Cricket Academy has employed some of the best coaches from India, including former Mumbai bowler Vishal Mahadik.

The Academy has four turf, three cement, and three matted pitches, spin and swing bowling machines, safety nets, and is equipped for night practices as well. There’s also an in-house sports shop for cricket gear and video analysis.

For more information on the academy, visit www.pacificsportsclub.com.

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Overton presses claims for Ashes spot with impressive performance in England's tour win

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Craig Overton improved his chances of an England Test debut in this month’s Ashes series with an impressive bowling performance in the emphatic tour win over the cricket Australia XI in Adelaide on Saturday.

England needed just half an hour to wrap up a comprehensive 192-run victory early on the final day of the four-day tour match at Adelaide Oval.

The Somerset paceman took one of the three remaining wickets to fall to finish with three for 15 off 11 overs to share the wickets among the pace battery.

Overton is now firmly in line to make his Test debut at the Gabba for the opening Test of the series on November 23 and insists he is ready for the task.

“I’d like to think so but I’ve still got a bit of work to do,” Overton told reporters.

“It’s still a work in progress. It’s just finding that rhythm over here and I’d prefer to be over-cooked than under-cooked going to Brisbane.”

On his chances of cracking a spot in the England Test XI, Overton said: “You’re never quite sure, you just keep on doing your thing and try not to worry about it too much.

“If you get a call up then happy days if not I will be supporting the team as much as possible.

“I’m just making sure I bowl the best I can when I get a chance and hopefully that will be good enough. I’m confident it will be.”

James Anderson took two wickets on the final day to finish with three for 12 off 10.2 overs while Chris Woakes, who triggered the CA XI second innings collapse late on Friday, did not bowl on Saturday to have four for 17 off 10 overs.

Anderson, who is now the new team vice-captain in place of the suspended Ben Stokes, said he has been impressed with Overton’s efforts on tour.

“He’s a big lad, gets plenty of bounce and he’s very skilful too,” England’s all-time Test wicket-taker said.

“He can swing the ball, seam the ball and he brings something different to the team. He’s settled in really well.”

An England batting collapse was averted only by Jonny Bairstow’s unbeaten knock of 61 in the second innings of 207 and former fast bowler Ryan Harris, in charge of the CA XI, liked what he saw.

“I think their batting is vulnerable, absolutely, especially with no Stokes at six or seven,” Harris said.

“But it depends on how our boys bowl at them. If we’re loose and wide then we won’t have them in any trouble.

“We’ve got some good intelligence and knowledge on England and I’ll pass that on to our bowlers.”

Australia are delighted that England’s big two batting hopes, Joe Root and Alastair Cook, have not really fired on tour yet, the new captain having made one half century in his three innings and the former one having suffered three failures.

“We’ve been known to target the captain and Joe Root is genuinely their best player,” Harris said.

“You’ve got Alastair Cook too who knows these conditions pretty well so if you take the best two out it’s always going to be hard. That’s what I’m sure the Australians are trying to do.

“I think Cook looked a bit rusty. He’s had a good county season but it’s different in our conditions.”

England head to north Queensland on Sunday for their final Ashes warm-up game against the CA XI yet again, starting in Townsville on Wednesday, before the opening Test in Brisbane.

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