It may be difficult to believe that India have not won a Test in the island nation in 22 years, but that is a cruel fact. Five years back, they managed to square the series courtesy a spectacular ton from VVS Laxman, and a couple of years before that, they were bamboozled by Ajantha Mendis' mystery spin. This series presents them with their best opportunity to clinch the series, since the Lankans are not as strong as they have been in the past in the absence of stalwarts like Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan. India have been dominant for a majority of the two Tests, but the fact that they lost the first Test from a seemingly unbeatable position is something that will be at the back of their minds.
Of course, heading into the decider, they would be keen to look at the positives from last game's triumph. At the P Sara Oval, India outbatted and outbowled the hosts to register a comprehensive 278-run victory. Among the many good performances, the one of Lokesh Rahul stood out in the batting department. With Shikhar Dhawan out and Murali Vijay returning from injury, Rahul would have been under pressure, even more so as he hadn't scored many in the first Test. But, he blossomed and brought India out of trouble. In the second innings, Ajinkya Rahane again proved what a valuable Test contributor he is to the side. Rahane's hundred was instrumental in setting up India's match-winning total.
There were significant contributions from the others as well in the batting department. Skipper Virat Kohli featured in a key partnership in the first innings with Rahul to bat India out of trouble. Then, Rohit Sharma, under pressure, also delivered. His half-century was important in aiding India to a respectable first-innings total. Of course, he had a chance of getting a hundred as well, but that is another matter altogether. He played a nice cameo in the second innings as well as India looked for quick runs. Vijay also came to the party in the second innings, with a fluent fifty, after a duck in the first. Although, he was lucky, the contribution of Wriddhiman Saha, who chipped in with a half-century in the first innings, cannot be underestimated.
For the second game in a row, India's bowling was led admirably by the two main spinners, Ravichandran Ashwin and Amit Mishra. They struggled when attacked at Galle, but reigned supreme at the P Sara Oval. Their control and effectiveness was highly impressive. India do have their share of problems though. Stuart Binny did not look the part in the second Test, neither did Harbhajan Singh in the first. So India might be tempted to go in with Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the final Test. Also, with both Dhawan and Vijay ruled out of the series, India have no option left, but to ask Cheteshwar Pujara to open. Whether the forced move works remains to be seen.
Sri Lanka have struggled in recent times because they have been heavily dependent on two of their senior players to perform -- skipper Angelo Mathews and Rangana Herath. Both have lived up to the expectations, with Herath taking seven in the second innings at Galle and Mathews registering a ton in the first at Colombo. Still, the main reason why they won at Galle was the individual brilliance of Dinesh Chandimal. Lanka need more rounded efforts from the players. The form of openers Dimuth Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva will be a big worry. Also, Lahiru Thirimanne and Jehan Mubarak have gained enough experience to improve their consistency. In the bowling, Herath and Dhammika Prasad undoubtedly deserve better support.
-- By A Cricket Analyst