As Sri Lanka turn the page on a glorious chapter in their Test history following the retirement of Muttiah Muralitharan, the hunt for the next king of spin will begin today with the start of the second Test against India at the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) in Colombo. Muralitharan retired from Tests after he claimed his 800th wicket in five-day games, in the first match at Galle, which Sri Lanka won by 10 wickets to take the lead in the three-game series.
The 38-year-old spin wizard captured eight wickets in that win, while Lasith Malinga took seven but, to India's relief, both will be absent from the Sri Lanka bowling unit. Malinga has been rested following an exhausting return to the rigours of Test cricket and his place in the team is likely to taken by Dilhara Fernando, while Ajantha Mendis will step in for the retired Muralitharan. Mendis could be a natural successor to the record-breaking bowler, given his unorthodox spinning abilities. He is not the mystery that he once was, but regular Test cricket could help in adding to his repertoire, that includes a "carrom ball" amid a mix of googlies, off-breaks, top-spinners, flippers and leg-breaks.
Although he was not picked for the first Test, Mendis took six wickets in a warm-up game against India and the visitors may not breathe any easier following the exit of Muralitharan. "Absence of Murali and Malinga has opened up a chance for other bowlers," Kumar Sangakkara, the Sri Lanka captain, said on the eve of the game. "We have to now look for a partnership effort in bowling. Mendis bowled well in the warm-up game and we are hoping that he will do well in the second Test. We also have Rangana Herath and Suraj Randiv in the wings. In the pace department, Angelo Mathews is bowling with good seam. He can bowl well if there is something in the wicket.
"If they bowl to a plan, they can be effective. They should bowl in the right areas. Let us see how it works out. We have to change our balance in the bowling attack a bit, but the attitude remains the same," he added. On the India side, the bowlers will also be under the spotlight, for completely different reasons though. Ishant Sharma has faced plenty of criticism in recent times, but he did seem to be getting his rhythm back during a lively spell on the third morning of the first Test. He will be hoping to build on the confidence of that on a greener SSC wicket.
A bigger problem for India was the performance of their spin duo of Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha. Both looked innocuous on a spinning track in Galle, and MS Dhoni, the India captain, suggested one of them could be dropped in favour of seamer Munaf Patel. India have lost their last two Tests at SSC by an innings and another defeat will dislodge them from the top of International Cricket Council's Test rankings. Dhoni is, however, not too concerned about that.
"If we lose the No 1 ranking, we will try to get it back," he said. "We just have to play well and the rankings will take care of itself. firstname.lastname@example.org