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Published: Friday, June 15, 2001, 23:53 [IST]
Copyright AFP 2001
Galle: India will play a Test without Sachin Tendulkar for the first time in 12 years when it clashes with Sri Lanka in the three-match series starting on Tuesday.[an error occurred while processing this directive]The batting superstar, who has made a world record 84 consecutive appearances since his debut in 1989, was ruled out of the series due to an injured right toe.The Indians are further crippled by the absence of another star batsman Venkat Sai Laxman, spin ace Anil Kumble and in-form left-arm seamer Ashish Nehra, all nursing injuries.For captain Saurav Ganguly, it would seem like a general going into battle without a strike force, except that he has become used to leading a depleted team."I have never had the luxury of having the best team at my disposal, but we have not done too badly," Ganguly said. In eight Tests as captain, he has won five, including a sensational 2-1 triumph over world champions Australia at home last season.Ganguly did not have the services of Kumble for any of the eight Tests after India's most successful spinner underwent shoulder surgery last year. Kumble, Tendulkar, Nehra and Laxman are all expected to be fit by the time the tour of South Africa starts in October, but the immediate priority is to beard the Sri Lankan lions in their own den.The last time India played a Test series in Sri Lanka in 1997, Sri Lanka ran up a world record total of 952 for six at the Premadasa Stadium with current captain Sanath Jayasuriya making 340 and Roshan Mahanama 225 during a second-wicket stand of 576.The hosts have already gained the psychological edge by defeating India in the final of the recent One-day triangular series that also featured New Zealand.It is little consolation for the Indians that the last time they won a Test series abroad was in Sri Lanka way back in 1993. India has not won a Test series outside the sub-continent since 1986 and the magnificent success over the Australians was quickly forgotten when Ganguly's men were forced to a 1-1 draw by lowly Zimbabwe in June."Our poor record abroad stares us in the face every time we go on to the field," Ganguly said. "But it can't be wished away. We have to accept the challenge and get on with it."The absence of players like Tendulkar is a big blow, but the younger players will have to stand up and be counted." Ganguly is relieved that pace spearhead Javagal Srinath is back after opting out of the One-dayers and the recall of Venkatesh Prasad will lend further experience to the new ball attack.The battle of the off spinners, Muthiah Muralitharan of Sri Lanka and India's Harbhajan Singh, promises to be the highlight of the three back-to-back Tests.Muralitharan, arguably the most potent spinner in the game, has fought off allegations of an illegal bowling action to grab an astonishing 317 wickets from 62 Tests.Harbhajan already has 61 wickets in 13 Tests, including a sensational haul of 32 in five innings against the Australians which earned him the nickname "turbanator" - a play on 'terminator' and 'turban' that the 20-year old is enjoined to wear as follower of the Sikh religion."Harbhajan is India's answer to Murali," Ganguly said. "I expect him to worry the Sri Lankans as much as he did the Aussies. He is our trump card."The Sri Lankan captain conceded Harbhajan will play a crucial role. "We must tackle him well if we are to win," Jayasuriya said. "Murali and Harbhajan could well decide the fate of the series."The first Test in the southern coastal town of Galle from Tuesday will be followed by Tests at Kandy (August 22-26) and Colombo (August 29-September 2).