x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

We must set the early tone, says Dhoni

Captain believes the first session is key as India try to focus on the game and not about a possible top ranking.

MS Dhoni, the India captain, feels the outcome of the final Test match in Mumbai could rest on the events of the first session this morning. India go into the match at the Brabourne Stadium knowing victory over Sri Lanka will lift them to the top of the ICC Test rankings for the first time.

The first session has proved telling in the two previous Tests. India slumped to 32 for four on the first day in Ahmedabad and spent the rest of the match battling to save a draw. In Kanpur, meanwhile, openers Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir laid the foundation for the crushing victory by piling on 131 runs before lunch. "The first session, one to one and a half hours, will be crucial," said the wicket-keeper batsman. "That's the time the seamers will get a bit of help. Again in the evening because this time of the year fast bowlers will, if they maintain the ball, be able to swing the ball for the least half an hour or so," he said.

India suffered an injury scare yesterday when Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, the bowling hero of the last Test, damaged a finger. But he is expected to be passed fit, leaving Murali Vijay for Gambhir, who is attending his sister's wedding, as the only change. "We are not thinking about the ranking because you don't really want to be under pressure, you just want to play your natural game," added Dhoni. "We know if we keep winning, the ratings will take care of themselves."

Kumar Sangakkara, the Sri Lanka captain, has responded to the defeat last week by dropping spinner Ajantha Mendis. He must decide which seamer, Nuwan Kulasekera or Dilhara Fernando, will replace him. Sangakkara is hopeful Muttiah Muralitharan will rediscover his best form and spin the visitors to a series-levelling win. Muralitharan, who has a record 788 Test wickets to his name, has only taken five wickets in two Test matches at a cost of 396 runs.

"He is still the best bowler that has played the game," Sangakkara said. "So you still have to have faith in him and trust him." @Email:kaffleck@thenational.ae