R Premadasa Stadium, Colombo
Sunday, September 3; 14:30 local and IST
Sony Ten 3 and Ten 3 HD (Hindi); Sony Six and Six HD (English)
The main picture
Not many aspects of India’s tour of Sri Lanka 2017, which is in its penultimate lap, have been surprising: at the outset, we expected Virat Kohli and co. to dominate their hosts and the hosts themselves to be punching bags, largely. What has, however, taken us aback is an international cricket team rolling over, over and over again and failing to compete altogether. Stand-in captain Lasith Malinga opined in the post-match interview on Thursday night, that the current Sri Lankan team lacks the level of experience teams of the previous generation had. But essentially, what the no-shows tell us is that the current crop of cricketers is unfit to play at the top level.
Big-margin defeats, insipid batting and bowling displays and lack of nous in asking for DRS—and an overwhelming consistency in each of these three aspects—are pieces of evidence of a team not in transition, a team not lacking in experience but a team who are simply not good enough. You can sympathise with the Sri Lankan cricket team, the selectors who have resigned, and their supporters, who have become disillusioned by the national team’s consistent losses. But then, international cricket isn’t kind to those who cannot cut it.
This ODI series was lost last Sunday, but most importantly for Sri Lanka, they had to win at least two one-dayers against India in order to seal automatic qualification for the World Cup 2019. Mind you, this is their last ODI assignment before the September 30 deadline and with their being 0-4 behind, this Island nation aren’t in control of their destiny in terms of direct entry into the next installment of the Cricket World Cup.
Ranked 8th in the ICC ODI rankings—the top eight teams including the tournament hosts (England) will qualify directly for the quadrennial event—the Lankans need the ninth-placed West Indies to lose at least one of the six One-Day Internationals they will play in the UK (one against Ireland and five against England) before the end of this month. Winning the final ODI against India will help the Lankan Lions finish with 88 rating and the Windies will, in case of Sri Lanka losing 1-4 to India, have to then win all of their six ODIs. The Sri Lankans, though, face a monumental task, considering their bowling attack’s ineptitude to take wickets, inexperienced batting line-up’s consistent failures and the mental state they must be in for a team win-less in seven matches and the last six ODIs.
Team India have had no such worries since the start of this ODI series, having set out to experiment with their batting line-up and team composition. Of the 15 players who were picked in the squad, Ajinkya Rahane is the only one who hasn’t featured in any of the four completed matches. Kohli and the team management must decide how to fit the Mumbai batsman into the side for tomorrow’s fifth match. For their own good too, the Men in Blue will have liked to be tested a bit more by their hosts. But other than in the second and third ODIs, when the Indian wickets fell in clusters and MS Dhoni had to step in to steady the ship with different batting partners as his team were in pursuit of targets 231 and 217, the visitors have barely been presented with any challenge.
Sri Lanka vs India head to head in ODI matches
India have now extended their head-to-head record against their neighbours to 87-55 in 160 One-Day International matches, one of which has been a tie and 17 have produced no results.
In 35 SL v IND ODIs at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo, Sri Lanka have won 15 to India’s 14, with the other six matches failing to produce results.
Team news and playing XI
Upul Tharanga, the Sri Lankan ODI captain who completed his two-match suspension for slow over-rate, should return to lead the team and also take one of the crucial positions in the batting order. Danushka Gunathilaka hasn’t recovered from the shoulder injury he picked up in the first ODI and Tharanga might return to opening the batting with Niroshan Dickwella. However, if Kusal Mendis, who has had a forgettable series so far, doesn’t play, then Dilshan Munaweera might keep his place and Tharanga will continue batting in the middle order.
In the bowling department, Sri Lanka will benefit from picking an all-rounder like Thisara Perera instead of a frontline spinner/seamer as Malinda Pushpakumara or Dushmantha Chameera, though Perera did disappoint in the August 20 one-dayer.
Likely SL playing XI for the 5th ODI: 1 Upul Tharanga (C), 2 Niroshan Dickwella (WK), 3 Kusal Mendis/Dilshan Munaweera, 4 Lahiru Thirimanne, 5 Angelo Mathews, 6 Milinda Siriwardana, 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Wanindu Hasaranga, 9 Akila Dananjaya, 10 Vishwa Fernando, and 11 Lasith Malinga
Shikhar Dhawan will return from Sri Lanka on Sunday, to take care of his ailing mother. So, Rahane is a likely, straightforward replacement for the left-hander in the line-up, while the misfiring Lokesh Rahul might make way for Kedar Jadhav.
Likely India playing XI for the 5th ODI: 1 Virat Kohli (C), 2 Rohit Sharma, 3 Ajinkya Rahane, 4 Manish Pandey, 5 MS Dhoni (WK), 6 Lokesh Rahul/Kedar Jadhav, 7 Hardik Pandya, 8 Axar Patel, 9 Shardul Thakur, 10 Jasprit Bumrah, and 11 Kuldeep Yadav
Team India look set to whitewash Sri Lanka 5-0. But with the way cricket or any sport plays out more often than not, don’t rule out the underdog springing a surprise.