Colombo:The first Test between India and Sri Lanka has been delayed by rain. It's drizzling in Colombo and ground staff are removing water from the middle to avoid the water-logging. More than ninety percent of the ground is covered and chances of any play before lunch looks unlikely.
The two Asian giants will play three Tests in the Idea Cup. Unravelling the mystery of new spin sensation Ajantha Mendis will be the biggest challenge for India's famed batsmen who seeking to achieve the rare feat of conquering the islanders at home.
The 23-year-old Mendis, an Army sniper who has shot into fame because of his unorthodox and mesmering deliveries, has been the home team's brand new weapon and much will depend on how the Indians tackle him on a Sinhalese Sports Club track tailor-made to suit the hosts.
The star-studded Indian batting line-up, despite all the experience, will be a trifle wary of the young spinner who has sought to gain a few psychological points by declaring that he was working on developing a new delivery to add more variety to his armoury.
Clearly, the onus will be on the Indians to get on top of him and there is no reason why a batting order which boasts of class batsmen like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag and VVS Laxman cannot counter him.
But the visitors are aware that they should not make the mistake of focussing on Mendis alone.
"Sure, he is going to be one of their four or five bowlers, but you cannot just focus on Mendis. They have got a couple of other guys (Muralitharan and Vaas) who have got 1000 wickets between them," senior player Rahul Dravid said.
"It will be a big mistake to focus just on Mendis. We will just play it as we see it. We have come against a lot of bowlers in our times and we have succeeded against them," Dravid said. Batting has been India's strength in recent years and it is no different this time around as the team has plenty of experience in that department.
Indians had lost a three-match Test series 2-1 on their last Test tour of Sri Lanka in 2001.
Sri Lanka have also beaten South Africa, England, the West Indies and Bangladesh at home in the past four years. They have lost just one of their 16 home Tests since August 2004, the lone defeat coming against Pakistan at Kandy two years ago.
Apart from Mendis, the Indians will also have to contend with the wily Muthiah Muralitharan who will be quite a threat in home conditions. Muralitharan, who has a record 735 Test scalps to his credit, has an impressive track record at home and he will be keen to make an impression.
The Indians are aware that the Lankans will be a formidable force at home and it will need an extraordinary effort to beat them and take a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.
"They have got the right balance in these conditions. They are always a big threat at home. Muttiah Muralitharan is a big impact and Chaminda Vaas is a clever bowler in these conditions," Dravid said.
"They have a good batting line-up that adapts well in these conditions. They can bat for long periods. But we have come here with a good team as well. If we play to our potential, I think it will be a good Test series," he said.
With one-day captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni skipping the series because of exhaustion, Dinesh Kaarthik is expected to don the wicket-keeping gloves. The Indians are expected to go into the game with seven batsmen and four bowlers with the dashing Virender Sehwag and his Delhi teammate Gautam Gambhir opening the innings.
While captain Anil Kumble and offier Harbhajan Singh will shoulder the spin bowling responsibility, Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma are the two pacers who are likely to get the nod.
For Tendulkar, the Test series assumes much importance as he is just 172 runs short of former West Indies captain Brian Lara's world mark of 11,953 Test runs.
While the Sri Lankans have a formidable spin combination, the pace attack looks severely depleted by injuries to frontline pacers.
Dilhara Fernando could not recover from his knee injury and has joined Lasith Malinga and Ferveez Maharroof on the sidelines for the opening Test.
In their absence, Thilan Thushara and Nuwan Kulasekera will share the new ball responsibility with old war horse Chaminda Vaas.
India: Anil Kumble (capt), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Venkatsai Laxman, Dinesh Karthik, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma.
Sri Lanka (from): Mahela Jayawardene (capt), Michael Vandort, Malinda Warnapura, Kumar Sangakkara, Thilan Samaraweera, Chamara Silva, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Prasanna Jayawardene, Chaminda Vaas, Muttiah Muralitharan, Ajantha Mendis, Thilan Thushara, Nuwan Kulasekera, Chamara Kapugedera.
Umpires: Mark Benson (ENG) and Billy Doctrove (WI)
TV umpire: Rudi Koertzen (SA)
Match referee: Alan Hurst (AUS)