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.