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India’s victory over Sri Lanka in Mumbai, and the series win that it has brought, has seen the hosts take over as the world’s top-ranked Test team, at least for the next few weeks.

It’s difficult to imagine India enjoying the dominance of Test cricket that the West Indies, and more recently Australia, have – partly because of how little Test cricket India play at the moment, and partly because of their mixed record away from home – but the masterplan seems to be working so far.

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What words are there?

Enjoy:

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It’s a cliche to say that you can’t judge a pitch until both sides have batted on it, but it certainly seems that India have made better use of the Kanpur pitch than Sri Lanka managed.

Sreesanth marked his comeback by tearing through the latter’s batting line-up, taking 5-75 as the tourists were bowled out 413 runs short of India’s first innings total, and then dismissing Dilshan in the second innings as Sri Lanka ended Day 3 on 57/4 following on, still 356 behind. He found movement off the seam in the morning session, reverse swing in the afternoon, and – perhaps most tellingly – consistency more or less throughout the day.

Given Sreesanth’s past temperament, it’s worth noting that, by and large, his trademark theatrics seem to have been absent today – perhaps Indian cricket’s prodigal son is ready to live up to his potential.

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It may be an innocuous pitch, the bowling may not have been great, but 417 runs for two wickets in one day is still pretty special. Virender Sehwag‘s 131 from 122 balls was spectacular enough, but Gambhir (167 – his seventh century in nine Tests) and Dravid (85 not out) got in on the act as well as India scored the most runs they have ever scored in a day of Test cricket.

Hopefully, this isn’t just the first day of another run-filled bore draw – the pitch is expected to prove helpful to the spinners in the coming days. It didn’t seem to help Sri Lanka much today, as Muralitharan and Herath both went for more than 5 an over.

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The build-up to India’s Test series with Sri Lanka has been somewhat overshadowed by the continuing coverage of Sachin Tendulkar’s 20th year in international cricket, but with top spot in the ICC Test Rankings up for grabs, the contest has much to offer.

Sri Lanka’s record in India suggests that the tourists will face a tough task. The bulk of responsibility for scoring runs is likely to fall on the usual suspects, who have in the past made huge scores on benign pitches but struggled in difficult conditions. As for the bowlers, only Murali has a strong track record in India, so the others will need to step up if the side are to succeed. Herath should edge out Mendis for the second spin slot, although the latter’s magical showing against the same opposition last year may inspire his inclusion at some stage.

For the hosts, Zaheer Khan’s return (along with Sreesanth) should revitalise the pace attack, whilst a chief concern could be adjusting back to Test cricket after more than six months of limited-overs matches. The lack of Test matches has been picked up on by the man of the hour, and many of the players in the side may take some time to realign their approaches.

This is a key series for India in their mission to become the best side in the world, and a series victory for the home side will be widely expected.

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Australia’s well-documented injury problems in India have allowed one or two players the chance to break into the side. The man with possibly the most masculine name ever, Burt Cockley, may not have made it into the side, but Doug Bollinger did, and took 3-38 on Monday and 5-35 today to move his way up the pecking order of Aussie quicks (Mitchell Johnson also had a good match, so he probably still pecks first).

Bollinger has been on the fringes of the Australian side for some time, having often been a non-playing tourist with the Test side, and having played only 3 ODIs before the current series (in the relatively low-profile series against Pakistan over in the UAE). Given Australia’s problems with bowlers this year, perhaps the Champagne puns that have been (ahem) ‘on ice’ since Dominic Cork’s international retirement will get more regular outings in future.

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India are hosting Australia for a seven-match ODI series, which normally would have been hyped for weeks (if not months) in advance, but the Ashes (and its attendent ODIs) blurred into the Champions Trophy which blurred into the Twenty20 Champions League which only finished yesterday, so it’s almost as if the series has crept up on both sides.

For India, the headline news is the return of Virender Sehwag and the injury worries over Yuvraj, but it’s the bowling attack which is arguably under pressure after a poor run of late. Munaf Patel returns to give the seam bowling a little more control, whilst the pressure is mounting on Harbhajan to shrug off his recent slump and return to the form he showed before the Champions Trophy.

For Australia, there are fewer concerns, although the absence of Michael Clarke will probably necessitate some tinkering with the batting order. Most of the side will be familiar with Indian conditions through IPL and more recently Champions League experience, although the fatigue factor after exertions in the latter may come into play with regard to the likes of Brett Lee.

Although those Aussies who played for NSW in the Champions League will be a little on the tired side, I would expect Australia to have the upper hand in the series unless India significantly up their game. The hosts’ poor showing at the Champions Trophy has cast doubt on their ambitions to be the worlds’ best.

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