Series set for rampaging decider
Sometime this morning, while driving along the Chennai-Kolkata highway to make his way to the quite magnificent stadium on the outskirts of Visakhapatnam, Rahul Dravid might have been reminded of the Caribbean island of St Lucia. The thought might not have occurred with regard to the World Cup - India's first aim, as Dravid himself has admitted, is to get to the semi-final, with St Lucia one of the possible venues - but because of how similar the ACA-VDCA Stadium is to the Beausejour in Gros Islet.
Set amid the scenic hills 11 kilometres away from the main city, sporting a revamped look that can put any Indian Test venue in the shade, with a name straight out of Nordic myth, the ACA-VDCA Stadium [Andhra Cricket Association - Visakhapatnam District Cricket Association] is a sight to savour. The grass isn't just lush, it's sparkling; the stands have a sprinkling of freshness about them and the facilities, for players, fans and the media, are in place. In the middle of a forest area, with panthers lurking in the neighboring jungles, India and Sri Lanka will hope for a rampaging finish to their World Cup preparations.
Who will, who won't?
India are already without Sachin Tendulkar (resting with a stiff back) and have left out Anil Kumble and Sreesanth from the final 12. It may come down to a choice between Irfan Pathan - who simply has to get some match practice under his belt - and Dinesh Karthik. "Pathan has really come through," said Dravid at the pre-match press conference. "He has bowled full tilt at nets today to a couple of batsmen. But we will decide about his chances of playing tomorrow's game after viewing him in the morning practice session. Whatever we have seen at the nets today was good."
India have three openers to choose from - Dravid was slightly amused when asked about the specialist opener, the opener in form, and the other who everyone wants to see opening. Having clarified who was what - Sourav Ganguly, Robin Uthappa and Virender Sehwag - he suggested that one of them would bat at No.3.
Mahela Jayawardene said his side didn't have any injury worries. Would they, like India have done with Tendulkar, be resting any of their key players for this final game? Tom Moody, the coach, shot back coolly: "We already have a couple of them (Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas) resting in Colombo."
World Cup build-up
How much of an effect will this match, and series even, have on India v Sri Lanka on March 23 at Trinidad? Does winning a series in India have any connection with the first round of the World Cup? No says Greg Chappell, the India coach ("This will be forgotten by the time we get there"), no says Jayawardene ("Different venue, different country, different conditions"), and no says Dravid ("The World Cup is in the back of our mind but the immediate priority is to win the game and series").
Sri Lanka haven't yet announced their 12 but one would think they would want to fine-tune their combination for the World Cup. Jayawardene hasn't crossed 50 in 16 innings (since June 2006) and Upul Tharanga hasn't yet fired in this series. They'd dearly like to pull off a win tomorrow as a series triumph without Vaas and Murali would be quite an achievement, especially after having been walloped 6-1 against a full-strength Indian side in 2005.
Dravid's proud record
Dravid is yet to lose a bilateral series at home. Starting from October 2005, when he took over the reins, he's triumphed against Sri Lanka (both one-dayers and Tests), England (one-dayers) and West Indies (one-dayers). Apart from these, he's drawn series against South Africa (one-dayers) and England (Tests). No points for guessing his first priority tomorrow. The World Cup can wait.
India (likely) 1 Sourav Ganguly, 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 Robin Uthappa, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 Rahul Dravid (capt), 6 Dinesh Karthik, 7 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), 8 Ajit Agarkar, 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 Munaf Patel.
Sri Lanka (likely) 1 Sanath Jayasuriya, 2 Upul Tharanga, 3 Mahela Jayawardene (capt), 4 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 5 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 6 Russel Arnold, 7 Farveez Maharoof, 8 Nuwan Kulasekera, 9 Malinga Bandara, 10 Lasith Malinga, 11 Dilhara Fernando
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo