India look to build on psychological edge
India, at the halfway mark of their CB Series campaign, have the edge over Sri Lanka, whom they meet at the Manuka Oval on Tuesday. India completed a strong victory against Australia at the MCG, while Sri Lanka suffered a 128-run defeat to the same opponents last week.
The game assumes significance for Sri Lanka, six points behind leaders India in the points table though with a game in hand, who have yet to catch fire in the tournament - their previous match against India was washed out after India's innings.
Most worrisome for Mahela Jayawardene, the captain, has been the team's indifferent batting - apart from Kumar Sangakkara, none of the Sri Lankan batsmen showed character against Australia. "Our batting is a bit of concern," he said. "You can have those days I suppose, just like what happened to the Aussies yesterday [against India]. They played seven batsmen, yet couldn't get a competitive total on the board." However, he felt there were enough runs in the wicket at the Manuka Oval if the batsmen got it right.
The wicket is nothing different from the tracks in the subcontinent, except for the bounce. Considering the track is set to aid strokeplay, both teams are expected to opt for batting depth. India wouldn't want to change a winning combination but Sri Lanka may bring in Farveez Maharoof, the allrounder, for Tillakaratne Dilshan, who is recovering from a bout of infection.
Following their unfinished game at the Gabba, where they racked up 267 for 4, India will look to push forward the psychological advantage built by their batsmen against a Sri Lankan attack that's been below par despite the presence of Chaminda Vaas, Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga. Only the young Ishara Amerasinghe kept the Indians in check with accurate bowling even when his seniors failed to build pressure. Harbhajan Singh, the offspinner, was especially pleased by the manner in which his batsmen dealt with the danger of Murali. "The way we played Murali was very good," he said. "He got two early wickets but he gave away 50-odd runs."
For India, as the summer extends, every game is proving to be a profitable exercise. Harbhajan believes the team has more belief after every win and the hunger is increasing each day.
"We have young guys who are all raring to go," he said. "We played very well yesterday and we will stick to the same sort of the rhythm in the next game and try to win every game from here onwards.
"Every game is different. It doesn't matter what Sri Lanka did in the last game. It's going to be a good challenge for both sides and we'll put up our best show."
Jayawardene, however believes the competition is wide open now and says a Sri Lankan win tomorrow will even things out. "The challenge for them is to be consistent and the challenge for us is to challenge ourselves."
The match is also a special occasion for the locals given that international cricket is returning to Canberra after a 16-year hiatus. However, visiting teams have stopped over for the traditional contests against the Prime Minister's XI, just like India did before the Perth Test this season.
India (likely) 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Sachin Tendulkar, 3 Gautam Gambhir, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 Rohit Sharma, 6 Mahendra Singh Dhoni, 7 Robin Uthappa, 8 Irfan Pathan, 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Sreesanth, 11 Ishant Sharma
Sri Lanka (likely) 1 Upul Tharanga, 2 Sanath Jayasuriya, 3 Kumar Sangakkara, 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Chamara Kapugedera, 6 Chamara Silva, 7 Farveez Maharoof, 8 Chaminda Vaas, 9 Lasith Malinga 10 Ishara Amerasinghe 11 Muttiah Muralitharan
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo