COLOMBO - The outfield was being painted with sponsor logos, the practice pitches farthest from the 22-yard strip to be used for the game watered as generously as the areas just to the outside of the playing surface. The finishing touches were being applied to the SSC ground outfield on Wednesday afternoon, a day before the start of the second Sri Lanka-India Test, but long before that, the business part had been attended to.

While there are no certainties in life, and most definitely not in the game hailed as one of glorious uncertainties, the one thing that is pretty obvious is that if Sri Lanka and India are to do battle on an equal footing, there will be only one winner. That is not said with any disrespect to Dinesh Chandimal’s men. It is just the way things are, and it is something both the home side and buoyant visiting side, the No. 1 Test team in the world, clearly understand.

Sri Lanka’s best chance of running India close – if not pulling the rug from under its firmly grounded feet – therefore lies in evening out the playing field. Or, paradoxically, in throwing up a surface that will mask the gulf between the teams and thereby queer the pitch.

That was the bit of business that the ground staff at the SSC got out of the way early afternoon. The reasonably thick covering of grass was rapidly confined to history as the scissor and the tweezer came into play. By the time the deed was done, the SSC strip looked as barren as the Sahara, with a dryness that will most certainly bring the spinners more into play than the flat batting beauty in Galle did last week.

The pitch hadn’t been one of the great talking points during the first Test, but it so easily could have been. Perhaps Sri Lanka had fancied its chances of batting out time against the versatile and vastly talented Indian bowling attack on a flat bed because from the off, it was thinking draw rather than win. That Galle should throw up a deck with nothing for the spinners was a massive surprise, given how much success spinners of all nationalities but mainly Sri Lankan have enjoyed there. This is probably course-correction, and an attempt to make sure that Sri Lanka has at least a fighting chance, even though India has the top two Test bowlers as per the ICC rankings in the spin combine of Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin.

For the last year, India has not really allowed such things as the nature of the playing surface to bother it unduly. It has been ensconced in its own cocoon of preparation and self-improvement, almost consciously taking the extraneous factors out of the equation. It will be mindful of the fact that the only time it ran into a minefield during the extended home season, it wiped the floor against Australia in Pune – hammered as it was by 333 runs. But there is little indication as of now that the hard, dry surface here will be anywhere near as diabolical as the headquarters of the Maharashtra Cricket Association was in February.

India should welcome KL Rahul back into the playing XI, with the Karnataka opener having recovered completely from the viral fever that kept him out of the Galle Test. Rahul’s return will further strengthen the Indian batting line-up, but will force the comeback of either Shikhar Dhawan or Abhinav Mukund – as looks most likely – to be put on hold. Neither man did much wrong in Galle but Dhawan will probably win the nod because of his day-one exploits that set up India’s 304-run victory. After all, topping a 168-ball 190 isn’t an everyday occurrence, though Abhinav more than pulled his weight with a brilliant run-out and a sensational catch that preceded his second-innings 81.

The other call India will have to make is whether to find a way to hand Kuldeep Yadav a second Test cap and requisition his left-arm wristspin. That will depend on what the think tank makes of the pitch and whether they feel the need to have an additional spin resource to complement the Ashwin-Jadeja strike force. India will be determined to seal a second successive series triumph in Sri Lanka at the first time of asking, and therefore will guard against any let-up in intensity. Virat Kohli spoke of the areas needed that improvement following the Galle win; Sri Lanka can’t, and won’t, expect complacency to any degree to seep into the Indian ranks.

The home side will be buoyed by the availability of both Chandimal, who missed Galle on account of pneumonia, and Rangana Herath, who assumed leadership duties there. Chandimal dispelled all doubts about Herath’s availability – the left-arm spinner had sustained a bruise to his left middle finger in the first Test – by pronouncing him fit. He also hinted at the inclusion in the XI of Dhananjaya de Silva instead of the injured Asela Gunaratne, and a potential debut for Malinda Pushpakumara, the 30-year-old left-arm spinner with more than 550 first-class wickets against his name.

A change in personnel won’t necessarily translate to a change in fortunes. Sri Lanka knows that it can ill afford to take its foot off the pedal for even a small passage, because India can grow fangs at the slightest hint of an opening. Chandimal will need a special effort from several key players – and will hope to reprise his brilliant unbeaten 162 of Galle in August 2015 – for the third Test of the series in Pallekele next week to not be a dead rubber.


SRI LANKA: Dimuth Karunaratne, Upul Tharanga, Kusal Mendis, Dinesh Chandimal (capt), Angelo Mathews, Dhananjaya de Silva, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Dilruwan Perera, Rangana Herath, Nuwan Pradeep, Malinda Pushpakumara.

INDIA: KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (capt), Ajinkya Rahane, R Ashwin, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Kuldeep Yadav, Umesh Yadav, Abhinav Mukund, Ishant Sharma, Rohit Sharma.