Teams fret more over rain than familiar opponents
Thursday, June 20
Start time 1030 (0930 GMT)
The Big Picture
Even as Clint McKay and Xavier Doherty were doing their darnedest to drive Australia to a sensational victory over Sri Lanka at The Oval, there were plenty of non-Australians cheering them on, just so that the cricket world will be spared yet another India-Sri Lanka ODI. In the last five years, the two sides have met a mind numbing 44 times in ODIs, and will face off again in a tri-series in the Caribbean starting next week. The teams are so familiar with each other and their strategies that MS Dhoni said: "You can also cut the extra 15 minutes of time in a team meeting and keep it simple."
At least unlike a majority of those previous encounters, Thursday's clash is a high-stakes, high-profile game. Even that could be ruined, though, as the weather forecast is dire. Sri Lanka, whose cricket season at home is regularly blighted by rain, are the only team to have been fortunate to get three full group matches, but that run looks set to come to an end with plenty of showers expected in Cardiff.
What's worse for Sri Lanka is that, in case of a washout, India will go through on account of being winners of Group B. The Champions Trophy is marketed as a "short, sharp" tournament, but not having a reserve day for the knockout matches is stretching that concept a bit too far. The only other times these teams have met in the Champions Trophy was also in a big game, the final in 2002, which was washed out despite the reserve day.
A week ago, midway through the league stage, Sri Lanka seemed headed for the exit as Ravi Bopara's burst in the final over lifted England to 293. Sri Lanka, however, hunted down that total before reeling off an impressive victory over Australia to progress to the semi-finals, a stage they regularly reach in global tournaments. Despite that, they have precious little silverware to show so far, something the likes of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara will be desperate to change.
To achieve that, they have to get past the form team of the tournament. There had been a bit of trepidation over how a revamped India would cope with the loss of vastly experienced players like Yuvraj Singh, Gautam Gambhir and Zaheer Khan. Their absence hasn't been felt yet, as India's new opening pair of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma have been prolific, and Ravindra Jadeja's miraculous season continues. A team traditionally filled with slow-coaches has now been transformed to one the normally cautious Dhoni calls "the best fielding side in the world". In the crunch matches, though, will the inexperience show?
Form guide(Most recent first, last five completed matches)
Sri Lanka WWLLW
Watch out for...
Two of Sri Lanka's batting giants, Sangakkara and Jayawardene, have already played match-winning innings in this tournament. The third, Tillakaratne Dilshan, hasn't hit the same heights, though he has contributed with the ball, and took an athletic caught-and-bowled that confirmed Sri Lanka's qualification. Dilshan has top scored in Sri Lanka's two longest ODI tournaments in recent years, the World Cup and the CB series in 2011-12. Sri Lanka will be looking to him to lift his game when it counts once again.
R Ashwin has firmly established himself as India's lead spinner, and has grown so much in confidence that he even attempted a conventional legspinner in the Pakistan match. India's bowling has yet to be strenuously tested in this tournament, and with a callow pace attack that is yet to prove itself under serious pressure, Ashwin's role assumes even more importance.
India are unlikely to make any changes to the line-up that has served them so well in the league phase.
India (probable) 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 Rohit Sharma, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Dinesh Karthik, 5 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 6 Suresh Raina, 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Umesh Yadav
Sri Lanka are also likely to retain the same XI. The one change they might consider is bringing in Thisara Perera for Shaminda Eranga.
Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Kusal Perera, 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Angelo Mathews (capt), 6 Dinesh Chandimal, 7 Lahiru Thirimanne, 8 Nuwan Kulasekara, 9 Lasith Malinga, 10 Rangana Herath, 11 Shaminda Eranga/Thisara Perera
Pitch and conditions
Pitches in Cardiff have been of contrasting nature. More than 600 runs were scored in the opening match, and the next was a low-scoring thriller between Sri Lanka and New Zealand in which 19 wickets went down for 277 runs. The semi-final will be played on a fresh surface that hasn't yet been used in the tournament.
More than the pitch, though, the weather will be key - light to heavy rain is expected through the day, which will lead to a curtailed match or, at worst, a washout.
Stats and trivia
- In the last five years, India and Sri Lanka have played 54 matches against each other across formats, the most by any two teams in a five-year span
- Among active players, no batsman has more runs against one team than Kumar Sangakkara has against India - 2435.
- Of Rohit Sharma's eight ducks, five have come against Sri Lanka.
"There's no room for revenge in sport, but yes, if we can beat the Indians, I think it'll be a great achievement for the whole team because, you know, there are thoughts about the World Cup final, and the recent history against them is not very good for Sri Lanka."
"We are used to [Lasith] Malinga. We play him so many times in IPL. He reverses the ball and remains dangerous."
Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo