Pallekele International Cricket Stadium
Thursday, August 24; 14:30 local and IST
The main picture
Make no mistake, Sri Lanka aren’t a bad side, but they just are playing bad, uncharacteristic cricket, the kind a team with their quality shouldn’t. Only a couple of months ago, the Lankan Lions competed well and lost only narrowly to Pakistan in their final ICC Champions Trophy group B match, winning which will have earned them a semi-final spot; they not only beat a much stronger Indian side by seven wickets but also registered the record-highest chase in the history of this competition (322), and they had also played fearlessly against South Africa in their first outing, even though the then Angelo Mathews’ side suffered a big-margin defeat. All these matches were played only in June and we are now in August.
The similarity that we can draw from those three fixtures, the 5-0 ODI series whitewash earlier this year in South Africa and the ongoing home series against India is, the Islanders have been victims of their own undoing. Their opponents haven’t played exceptional cricket, no, but Sri Lanka have time and again sabotaged themselves.
Against Pakistan in the Champions Trophy, shoddy ground fielding and poor catching cost them the match; against South Africa at The Brit Oval, they failed to consolidate a position of immense strength (105/2 in 15 overs) in a small chase of 300 runs; against the same Proteas outfit in their own den, the Sri Lankans had a golden opportunity to chase down 368 in the fourth ODI earlier this year and they had put themselves in a strong position to do so before undoing all the good work they had done, and against India last Sunday, the eighth-ranked ODI side threw away a match which they were in control of for the first 25 overs. What have their opponents had to do for suicidal batting and poor fielding displays?
Going forward, India’s hosts must stop self-sabotaging if they are to revive their glory days and firstly, get on board against the Men in Blue. They are, I reiterate, not a bad side. Niroshan Dickwella, Danushka Gunathilaka, Kusal Mendis, captain Upul Tharanga, and Angelo Mathews are wonderful batsmen and four of them (except Tharanga) showed themselves in a good light while they were in the middle on Sunday. The much-changed Indian bowling attack lacked intensity, incision and the Dambulla pitch didn’t offer them much assistance either. The Indian bowlers’ lives were made easier only because the Sri Lankan batsmen batted carelessly. Maybe, they were aiming to set India a tall target. But even if they intended to set India a target well in excess of 300, the nature of their dismissals was meek and the shots played were reckless.
This Indian bowling attack doesn’t carry much ammunition, yes, but what can you say about the Sri Lankan bowling? Except Mathews, who conceded nine runs off his two overs, every other bowler conceded more than six runs per over and worryingly, the No. 1 spinner on Sunday, Lakshan Sandakan, was taken for 63 runs off his half-a-dozen overs. Shikhar Dhawan was particularly severe on the chinaman spinner, who was cut, pulled, swept, and lofted down the ground by the in-form Indian opener. The fast bowlers, Lasith Malinga (0/52 off eight overs) and Vishwa Fernando (0/43 off six overs), neither created wicket-taking opportunities with the two new balls nor kept a tight lid on the scoring and India cantered to a win with 127 balls to spare.
The bowlers picked in the Lankan squad don’t carry enough of a wicket-taking threat. Therefore, the batsmen will have to bat more sensibly and give the Malingas, Fernandos and others a much bigger cushion of runs to defend. That way, the bowlers might be able to use the pressure of a big chase to their advantage. Sri Lanka will benefit greatly if Tharanga wins the toss and as expected, chooses to bowl first. Despite being the better side, the task of having to set a target will put India out of their comfort zone.
From India’s perspective, their middle order remains untested and the bowling display on Sunday didn’t provide many takeaways. These are positives for the Lankan Lions, who are struggling to get themselves out of a bad patch. They probably need some help from India, too, by batting poorly or being a little complacent.
Most recent results
Sri Lanka vs India head to head in ODI matches
Team India added to their previously 83 victories with a crushing win on Sunday. They now lead the head-to-head by 84-55, with one tie and 17 no-results in 157 ODI meetings so far with their Asian rivals.
The Pallekele International Cricket Stadium has hosted only one SL v IND ODI till date, with India winning the solitary one-dayer they have played here.
Team news and probable playing XI
While the hosts need to bat more sensibly and use the depth in their batting line-up better, their bowling attack needs a couple of reinforcements ideally. Sandakan, even though he’s a wrist spinner, hasn’t troubled the Indian batsmen in the two matches he has played (Pallekele Test and Dambulla ODI) and been expensive, as wrist spinners have the tendency to be.
For the second one-dayer on Thursday, Akila Dananjaya, who is a fresh face at the international level but boasts a reasonably good record at the List A level (bowling average of 29.43 and a best of 4/16 in 41 matches), might get a look in. The other possible change is Dushmantha Chameera replacing Vishwa Fernando, who was docile on Sunday. The raw pace of Chameera might just unsettle the Indian batsmen, though his ODI economy is a scary 6.37 in 13 ODIs.
Probable SL playing XI vs India: 1 Upul Tharanga (C), 2 Niroshan Dickwella (WK), 3 Danushka Gunathilaka, 4 Kusal Mendis, 5 Angelo Mathews, 6 Chamara Kapugedera, 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Wanindu Hasaranga, 9 Lasith Malinga, 10 Akila Dananjaya, and 11 Vishwa Fernando/Dushmantha Chameera
For India, Axar Patel’s economical and productive ten-over spell (10-0-34-3) was one of the very few positives on what was another unchallenging day at the office. The Indian middle order, which is one of the areas of concern, didn’t get a bat and the bowling attack, as aforementioned, didn’t have to work hard to pick wickets.
Virat Kohli had said in the presser before the first ODI, that India are “ready to lose a few games” in their bid to “try out something”. I believe that Axar and Yuzvendra Chahal had to be looked at and this was the reason India did not pick Kuldeep Yadav, who is an automatic choice. The Indian playing XI for the 2nd ODI shouldn’t change much from last Sunday. However, because the team management seem to be keen on experimenting, we might be in for some surprises.
Possible India playing XI: 1 Virat Kohli (C), 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Rohit Sharma, 4 Lokesh Rahul, 5 MS Dhoni (WK), 6 Kedar Jadhav, 7 Hardik Pandya, 8 Axar Patel, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Jasprit Bumrah, and 11 Yuzvendra Chahal/Kuldeep Yadav
The most admirable aspect about this Virat Kohli-led Indian side, irrespective of the format and the personnel changes, is their relentless nature and high-intensity levels from fixture to fixture. This trait of theirs has been on view in Sri Lanka too, throughout this tour so far. I am sure that India will want to continue playing good cricket and achieve their “goals” during this limited-overs series. As for Sri Lanka, they need to stop committing errors in all departments, to start competing with India.