The opening slot is not ideal for Pujara, but it's better to bat there than not play at all, writes Aakash Chopra
At 1-1, both teams should be standing at the same level on the medal podium. Sri Lanka managed an unbelievable coup in the first Test and India responded with clinical display in the second to ensure that there were no slip-ups. While the scoreline suggests that this contest is between two evenly matches teams, it can't be further away from the truth.
Cheteshwar Pujara bats in the Sinhalese Sports Club nets in Colombo yesterday. Pic/Solaris Images
In fact, even for the last Test match, both teams are chasing different dreams. India would like to win and end a 22-year series win drought on Sri Lankan soil. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, are hoping to avoid the humiliation of another series loss at home. India are chasing history and Sri Lanka are trying to avoid a result that becomes a dark spot in their rich cricketing history.
One thing is common between these two sides — both teams are going through transition. While India are slightly ahead on that course, Sri Lanka have just started treading that path and the departure of Kumar Sangakkara makes their journey even more arduous. Three individuals scripted Sri Lanka's win at Galle but India's win at P Sara was a thorough team effort. Yes, there were few standout performers for India too but unlike Sri Lanka, they had fewer no-shows.
Sri Lanka's big worry is their batting and it starts right at the top. Thus far their openers have managed to put together only 24 runs in four innings. They don't say 'well begun is half done' without a reason. India, on the other hand, are marred by injuries and for the third time in as many Test matches, there will be a new opening combination taking field.
It doesn't come as a surprise that even India haven't managed a good start but the thing that stood out for India was the fact that at least one of the openers stuck around for long. While Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul scored centuries, M Vijay fell 18 short of a well deserved hundred in the second innings P Sara.
Got to feel for Pujara...
It will be Cheteshwar Pujara and Rahul opening the innings in the third Test match, and you got to feel for Pujara. Everybody has been talking about how it's important to give him a chance to comeback and now that he's got this opportunity, it's come at a spot that isn't his own. But then, it's better to play at a number that you don't prefer than not playing at all.
Hope he makes the most of this opportunity, for I don't see too many coming his way in the near future. As for the bowling combination, Ishant Sharma is bowling as well as we have ever seen him bowl. Umesh Yadav is a world-class bowler when he gets it right while Ashwin and Mishra are in fine nick too.
Once again, there will be a debate about Binny's place in the side, for he's got only one wicket and one half century to show for the four Tests that he's played. Also, Bhuvneshwar Kumar is breathing down his neck for the bowling all-rounder's spot. Since India are likely to continue with Binny, it might just be a make-or-break match for his Test career. India will start as favourites to win the last Test to win the series.