Another daunting test awaits a shaky Srilanka

Match facts

Venue and time: The Brit Oval, London; 10:30 AM local and 15:00 hours IST

The main picture

Srilanka, like Pakistan in Group B, had an unfavourable Champions Trophy 2017 schedule handed to them in June last year. Not only were they grouped alongside two overwhelming favourites for the tournament but also were scheduled to face South Africa and India in their first two group fixtures. They lost to the Proteas last Saturday and as a result, find themselves in a do-or-die situation.

In actuality, Srilanka’s squad has a good blend of youth and the experience of Lasith Malinga, Angelo Mathews, Suranga Lakmal, Upul Tharanga, and Thisara Perera. Make no mistake, at least four of these five players are match-winners and have been match-winners for the Lankan Lions over the years. And therefore, the Islanders should not be looked at as cannon fodder and they themselves shouldn’t be thinking along those lines, no. A short tournament as the ICC Champions Trophy gives them as much of a chance of winning as the other seven sides.

The problem, though, has been Mathews and Malinga haven’t played a lot of one-day cricket over the last year and the young Srilankan side have struggled in the absence of their senior players. Although fundamental, the reality is that the batting line-up has been and is far too fragile, particularly in Mathews’s absence, and the bowling attack has lacked potency.

Against South Africa, Srilanka’s bowlers did a good job to keep the 1998 champions to 299/6. They began extremely well and for 20 overs, the South Africans were kept on a tight leash before Faf du Plessis’s arrival shifted the momentum. Chasing a more than a manageable target of 300 for victory, Srilanka got off to a great start, with Niroshan Dickwella providing the early impetus to the innings at the top of the order. But, as they had done in the Cape Town ODI earlier this year, the Tharanga-led batting line-up with no experience in the middle order simply imploded against Imran Tahir’s spin.

After that disappointing performance, the Lankan Lions face an equally tough opponent in their second Group B match. Holders India played like defending champions on Sunday, against Pakistan. They were lethal in two of the three departments and deservedly won the match by 124 runs. India’s batting line-up, which is the weaker link, produced a solid display, with the top four scoring half-centuries and getting themselves into form. Pakistan’s bowling wasn’t as potent as expected. Nonetheless, India paced their innings well and as a batting unit, they did an excellent job. Defending 289 in 41 overs, the bowlers were on the money and bowled out a weak Pakistani batting line-up for 164.

While Srilanka need to win to keep their qualification hopes alive, the Men in Blue will want to seal their place in the semi-finals with a victory over a team who they have an extremely good record against in the last decade. Since February 2008, India and Srilanka have played 55 ODIs against each other, and 34 of those have been won by India.

India vs Srilanka in Champions Trophy

Matches: 3 Indian wins: 1 and No-results: 2

The last time India and Srilanka met in the Champions Trophy was in the semi-finals of the 2013 edition. India registered a comprehensive win by 8 wickets and with 15 overs to spare.

Team news and playing XI

Srilanka

The big news ahead of Thursday’s encounter is that the Srilankan captain Angelo Mathews is fit to play, having recovered completely from the calf injury which kept him out of Srilanka’s Group B opener. However, the 30-year-old will only play as a batsman, looking to lend stability to what has been an unreliable middle order. Upul Tharanga, who was the stand-in skipper for the match against South Africa, has been suspended for two matches because of Srilanka’s slow over rate.

June 7 update: Also, Chamara Kapugedera has been ruled out of the rest of this tournament due to a right knee injury he picked up while going through a fielding drill during a practice session on Wednesday. Danushka Gunathilaka has been named as Kapugedera’s replacement. Gunathilaka, a left-handed opening batsman, is likely to be Tharanga’s replacement, with Mathews coming in for Kapugedera.

But what are the other changes the Srilankan think-tank might make?

The bowling attack is likely to remain the same for Srilanka. The selectors had named just seven batsmen in the 15-man squad and in the absence of Tharanga, much of the batting line-up—Dickwella, Danushka Gunathilaka, Dinesh Chandimal, Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera, and Mathews—will be as expected. Srilanka have the option of bringing in Thisara Perera for Asela Gunaratne, who is one of the two all-rounders in the squad.

Likely playing XI: Angelo Mathews (c), Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Dinesh Chandimal, Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera, Danushka Gunathilaka, Thisara Perera, Seekkuge Prasanna, Lasith Malinga, Suranga Lakmal, and Nuwan Pradeep

Actual playing XI for Srilanka: Angelo Mathews (c), Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Dinesh Chandimal, Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera, Danushka Gunathilaka, Thisara Perera, Asela Gunaratne, Lasith Malinga, Suranga Lakmal, and Nuwan Pradeep

India

The Men in Blue produced a near-complete performance against Pakistan, with almost every player playing his part to perfection. And they don’t have to and are unlikely to tinker with the winning combination.

India’s probable playing XI vs Srilanka: Virat Kohli (c), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni (wk), Kedar Jadhav, Ravindra Jadeja, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, and Jasprit Bumrah

India’s playing XI is the same from last match.




Weather forecast for Thursday, June 8, in London

The prediction is that Thursday’s weather might be the wettest at The Oval in London over the next four days.

Therefore, cricket fans and the two teams involved will be extremely fortunate if the weather is fine and does not interrupt play. In case this match gets abandoned, the resultant will suit the defending champions more.

Match prediction

As aforementioned, Srilanka are a good unit. And if they get their act together, no reason why they can’t get their Champions Trophy 2017 campaign back on track. The batting line-up needs to come up with the goods, but the Srilankan bowling attack certainly has the ammunition to unsettle a good yet mercurial Indian batting line-up.

For India, the question is whether they can repeat their performance from Sunday. Kohli and co. must be brimming with confidence following an important win, from this tournament’s and the India-Pakistan rivalry’s point of view, and will aim to build on that dominant performance. Cricfooty envisages another easy win for India.




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