HPCA Stadium, Dharamsala
December 10, Sunday; 11:30 IST
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The main picture
The problem for Sri Lanka in ODI cricket in 2017 has been that they have not managed to stop the rut. Of course, you have contributing factors (the primary being the players not performing to their potential and a discernible drop in the quality of players) to their getting into this rut and those have already had far-reaching consequences. But their run of just four ODI wins in 29 matches this year is unfathomable, to say the least. (In case you are wondering, teams who are ranked well below Sri Lanka, like Ireland (12th) and Zimbabwe (11th), have won more ODIs.) And, going into the last ODI series before the end of 2017, you cannot help but wonder whether the Lankan Lions will at least challenge an under-strength Indian team.
The general consensus is that a Virat Kohli-less Indian team are not as formidable as they are with their best batsman, which is true. But you also have a Sri Lankan team who have a new ODI and T20 captain (Thisara Perera), players returning from injuries (Asela Gunaratne and Nuwan Pradeep) and a couple of new faces in the squad named for the three-ODI series. On top of these aspects is the mental make-up of a team who have been on the receiving end of three 5-0 series defeats.
Rohit Sharma is set to become India’s 24th ODI captain and is likely to find the job easier simply because of the players at his disposal. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who tied the knot last month, has returned to the squad, as has Hardik Pandya, who was rested for the Test series. And so, the only two changes are Shreyas Iyer replacing Kohli and Siddarth Kaul coming in place of Shardul Thakur from the squad which was named for the ODI series against New Zealand. India, needless to say, are more settled and formidable. But from Sri Lanka’s perspective, the question is can their key players, namely Niroshan Dickwella, Upul Tharanga, Lahiru Thirimanne, Danushka Gunathilaka (in the batting department), Nuwan Pradeep, and Suranga Lakmal raise their game or at least play to potential. Therein lies the result of this series.
This ODI series kicks off at the picturesque HPCA Stadium in Dharamsala, where, because of the inclement weather conditions in the month of December, the timing of the match has been preponed from the usual 13:30 IST for day-night ODIs to 11:30 IST. One of the conspicuous aspects of playing at this venue is the air-borne ball travels faster because of the high altitude (Dharamsala is 1457 metres above sea level) than at a venue which is at sea level. The pitch at the HPCA Stadium offers good pace and bounce, generally, and naturally is good for strokeplay. Three ODIs have taken place so far here, all involving India, and the home team have won two of those matches. Considering the pitch we normally get here, you might think that the matches have tended to be high-scoring. Not been that case always, but come this Sunday, you can expect a reasonably high-scoring match.
IND: WWLWL (last five ODIs, from left to right)
1st ODI: India vs Sri Lanka playing XI
For India, I expect Shreyas Iyer to come in place of Kohli and bat at No. 3, with the rest of the line-up being pretty much the same otherwise.
Update: Kedar Jadhav has been ruled out of this ODI series because of a hamstring injury and replaced by Washington Sundar, who has also been named in the T20I squad.
India playing 11 for the first ODI: 1 Rohit Sharma (c), 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Shreyas Iyer, 4 Dinesh Karthik, 5 Manish Pandey, 6 MS Dhoni (wk), 7 Hardik Pandya, 8 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 9 Kuldeep Yadav, 10 Yuzvendra Chahal, and 11 Jasprit Bumrah
Sri Lanka’s playing XI is quite settled and straightforward, as well. And a lot of the players who are likely to play on Sunday have quite a bit of experience from having played half-a-dozen ODIs against India this year. Asela Gunaratne has returned to the squad after having recovered from a broken thumb in the first Test against India back home in July. Nuwan Pradeep, who wasn’t part of the Test squad, is part of the ODI squad, and I expect these two players to feature.
Sri Lanka playing XI for the 1st ODI: 1 Thisara Perera (c), 2 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 3 Danushka Gunathilaka, 4 Lahiru Thirimanne, 5 Upul Tharanga, 6 Angelo Mathews, 7 Asela Gunaratne, 8 Akila Dananjaya, 9 Nuwan Pradeep, 10 Dushmantha Chameera, and 11 Suranga Lakmal
India obviously start as favourites and as has been said about them in recent times, they have pretty much every base covered. Essentially, you can say that they are good enough to blow Sri Lanka away for the umpteenth time. But India’s weak link is their middle order, as we have reiterated many times, and if the Sri Lankan bowling attack can pick wickets at regular intervals, the visitors stand a good chance of springing a surprise.