India's opening combination headaches and other talking points ahead of the final Test against Sri Lanka

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India have three in-form openers avaialable for the Delhi Test.

With a 1-0 lead in the three-match series, hosts India will be looking to clinch the trophy in the third and final Test against Sri Lanka at New Delhi starting on Saturday.

The visitors on the other hand will be aiming to cap off a dismal calendar year with a positive performance before the attentions are turned towards the limited-overs matches.

As the two sides get ready to battle it out at the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium, we look at the key talking points ahead of the match.

RANGANA HERATH’S LOSS A BIG BLOW FOR ISLANDERS

The news of Sri Lanka’s veteran spinner Rangana Herath being passed unfit for the Delhi Test due to a back injury will be a big blow to Dinesh Chandimal’s men.

With a relatively inexperienced squad compared to that of the hosts, the absence of the 87-Test veteran will be greatly felt by the visitors. The 39-year-old had also played a handy knock of 67 in the Kolkata Test to hand Sri Lanka a first-innings lead.

The alternatives for the islanders are two wrist spinners in Lakshan Sandakan and Jeffrey Vandersay. While the latter is uncapped at the Test level, the former has only played seven matches in his career to date.

Herath's absence will be greatly felt by the visitors.

Herath’s absence will be greatly felt by the visitors.

INDIA’S FINAL TEST HURRAH BEFORE THE TOUR OF SOUTH AFRICA

With a hotly anticipated tour of South Africa coming up for the Indians at the end of the year, skipper Virat Kohli has talked about using the Sri Lanka series as a platform to prepare for the visit.

An Eden Gardens pitch laden with a green-top was laid out in the first Test to simulate conditions in South Africa. A similar surface was prepared in Nagpur for the second Test though the pitch deteriorated quickly to become a spinner’s paradise.

While Delhi has traditionally been a slower surface aiding the spinners, Kohli’s demand for green tops could mean a different kind of pitch at the Feroz Shah Kotla than we have become accustomed to.

The Indian selectors have deferred the selection for the tour of South Africa until the culmination of the Delhi Test and as such, loads of players will be looking to make an impact.

Delhi will be India's final chance to get it right before the South Africa tour.

Delhi will be India’s final chance to get it right before the South Africa tour.

INDIA’S OPENING COMBINATION

With three openers in prime form, Virat Kohli and the Indian team management will have a tough decision to make when the team sheet is announced on Saturday. With Murali Vijay marking his return from an injury lay-off with a masterful century in Nagpur, it is expected that the Tamil Nadu batsman will keep his place in the playing XI.

This leaves one spot between the returning Shikhar Dhawan and in-form KL Rahul. While in the past, injuries to one opener or the other meant squad selection wasn’t a headache, a trio of fit and firing openers has opened up a debate as to who deserves the slot in the playing XI.

It will be difficult to drop KL Rahul to make space for the returning Dhawan.

It will be difficult to drop KL Rahul to make space for the returning Dhawan.

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Ben Stokes' Ashes hopes dwindling despite New Zealand sojourn

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Ben Stokes might not be cleared to play the Ashes after all.

England all-rounder Ben Stokes is about to strap on his pads in New Zealand but his chances of playing any role in the Ashes appear to be close to zero.

The player’s dash across the globe to take part in his native country’s one-day domestic competition fuelled speculation he was preparing for a dramatic England call-up in time for the third Test in Perth.

But developments in England suggested his hopes of returning to bolster the struggling national side were diminishing rapidly as British police revealed a decision was yet to be made over whether he will face charges in a criminal investigation.

Police said a decision on whether to charge him over a brawl outside a nightclub had been passed to the Crown Prosecution Service – the outcome of which may not be known for weeks.

Given Stokes, 26, has not been, and may not be, convicted of any criminal offence, England could have taken him to Australia anyway on the grounds his worth to the team would justify the inevitable off-field furore.

But England and Wales cricket Board (ECB) director Andrew Strauss has repeatedly insisted cricket authorities must wait on the English legal system before deciding how to proceed with Stokes.

With the latest developments, England appear to have accepted they will not be seeing their star all-rounder play in the Ashes, even though they desperately need his talismanic presence after losing the first Test 1-0.

“That was what we thought as a group when we set off here,” said skipper Joe Root, quoted in Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper.

“All of our planning and preparation has been without Ben so how we go about things won’t change. I would personally love to have him back. But these things are completely out of our hands and we just have to move on.”

Root said that England were prepared for Stokes not playing in the Ashes.

Root said that England were prepared for Stokes not playing in the Ashes.

National selector Angus Fraser said that with all the uncertainty surrounding their star player, England could not afford to bank on the all-rounder turning up in Australia.

“If something changes then you react,” said the former Test fast bowler, speaking in London. “But I don’t think anyone is looking over their shoulder for a plane to come in to land.”

In order for Stokes, born in New Zealand, to be available for domestic cricket overseas, the ECB had to issue him with a no-objection certificate.

At the same time, the ECB upheld the suspension from England duty they imposed on Stokes following his involvement in the incident in Bristol in the early hours of September 25.

But cricket chiefs were reportedly caught by surprise when photographs emerged of him at London’s Heathrow airport with his cricket gear, not realising he had planned to fly to New Zealand so soon.

England missed both Stokes’s batting and pace bowling as well as the spirit of defiance that can lift his team-mates during their thumping 10-wicket defeat in the first Test.

They are now preparing for the second match of the five-Test series, which starts in Adelaide on Saturday.

In the meantime, Stokes is getting ready to play for New Zealand provincial side Canterbury on Sunday.

Canterbury chief executive Jez Curwin played down any link to Stokes’s Ashes ambitions.

“The Ashes series is an obvious connection. However that has not been a consideration for us or Ben at this time, he is just keen to be able to work again,” he said.

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Root happy to play mind games providing war of words don't overstep the mark

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Hoping to comeback in the series at Adelaide: Joe Root

Joe Root will be prepared to take his opposite number Steve Smith at his word that Australia were not mocking defeated England as the hosts began the Ashes with a 10-wicket triumph.

Australia captain Smith and debutant opener Cameron Bancroft conducted a slapstick post-match press conference in Brisbane, in which the latter recalled how Jonny Bairstow greeted him with a ‘head-butt’ rather than a handshake when they first met in a Perth bar several weeks earlier.

Australia had already made capital out of Bairstow’s unusual introduction when they ‘sledged’ him about it in England’s second innings, and then were delighted to see the wicketkeeper hole out to third-man as the tourists faltered badly at the Gabba.

As the series moves on to Adelaide, where the inaugural day-night Ashes Test will begin on Saturday, Root wants to think the best of Smith.

“You look at the pictures from that press conference, and I think it’s very important you’re careful how you interpret that,” he said.

“I’d like to think that Steve has a good amount of humility about him, and that he’s laughing at the scenario and the comments rather than the situation.”

Smith has confirmed publicly he was doing just that, amused by Bancroft’s dry delivery.

Root has also made clear no ‘sledging’ should ever veer towards unacceptable topics or remarks. He added: “I’d like to think they know when to stop and when too far is too far.

Addressing the media ahead of the second Test: Steve Smith

Addressing the media ahead of the second Test: Steve Smith

“If they have gone too far then it says more about them than it does about anything else.”

He is, however, broadly in favour of verbal exchanges as batsmen try to establish themselves in an innings.

“I think there is a place for a bit of banter out on the field, as long as it stays as banter and doesn’t become more than that.

“You want there to be a bit of niggle… flying around.

“That’s good for the game – it’s good to watch, it’s good to be involved in. It makes for good television.

“But there are certain things people know they should and shouldn’t say on a field, and it’s important both sides – not just one side, both sides – get that right and have enough respect for each other to not overstep any mark.”

England’s response, Root hopes, will be to produce a comeback fuelled by runs and wickets to put the sideshow back in its place.

“I think it’s important we move on really,” he said.

“It’s quite an insignificant part of what’s such an important series – the cricket should be the thing that’s the main focal point.

“Our responsibility as players is to make sure that, for the rest of the series, (cricket) is the stuff that’s spoken about – what we do on the field.

“That’s got to be our focus, to come back this week and have that individual performance that Steve had in the first game – and have that effect on the series.

“If one of us can do that, it should lead to us winning this week.”

Provided by Press Association Sport

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