Sri Lanka aim to put Test thrashing behind them
Wednesday, December 9
Start time 17.30 (12:00 GMT)
It would be easy, in the immediate aftermath of India's comprehensive Test series victory, to bill the hosts as favourites to win the two Twenty20 internationals against Sri Lanka. It would also be presumptuous because there are significant changes in personnel and the format is one in which India have struggled since the delirious high of World Twenty20 glory in 2007.
The Indian players are stars in their respective IPL teams but their results have been ordinary when playing together as an international side: in nine Twenty20 internationals since 2008, they have lost six and won three. The first victory was a remarkable come-from-behind effort inspired by the Pathan brothers in Sri Lanka, the other two were against Bangladesh and Ireland during a woeful World Twenty20 campaign in England this year.
The two significant problems India had in England, however, will be missing from these two games. Virender Sehwag, who had an injured shoulder during the World Twenty20, is back and in frightening form, and the other batsmen's weaknesses against the rising delivery are unlikely to be exposed on the flat and true pitches in India.
Gary Kirsten, the India coach, had said after they were eliminated from the World Twenty20 that there were holes in the Twenty20 set-up and teams had worked out strategies to effectively negate India's strengths. The next World Twenty20 is in May 2010 and the opportunities to formulate, fine-tune and effect plans are limited.
Sri Lanka, on the other hand, had a terrific World Twenty20 and were unbeaten until the final, which they lost to Pakistan. They were the tournament's most vibrant team: the evergreen Sanath Jayasuriya and Tillakaratne Dilshan's daring improvisations gave them fast starts, while the combination of Murali, Mendis and Malinga was simply too much for most opponents to handle. Since then, however, Sri Lanka have lost three matches on the trot - one to Pakistan and two to New Zealand, that too at home.
Their Test bowlers were battered by the Indian batsmen and Sri Lanka will welcome the addition of Lasith Malinga's pace and yorker-bowling skills to their attack. Jayasuriya will join Dilshan to form a destructive, match-winning opening combination. The question, though, is whether Ajantha Mendis will be able to exercise any control over a batting line-up that treated him with disdain over the last month.
Form guide(most recent first)
India - LLLWW
Sri Lanka - LLLLW
Watch out for
Lasith Malinga: When he's bowling well, Malinga can unleash yorkers at will and his low point of release makes it extremely hard for batsmen to get under his deliveries. In the World Twenty20, he developed a slower full-toss and, while the delivery sounds rather harmless, it foxed several batsmen and left stumps flattened.
India's middle-order: The middle-order was shuffled frequently during the World Twenty20 and their performances were disappointing. Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma and Yusuf Pathan struggled against the short ball.
India have rested Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh from the Twenty20 internationals which means the bowling line-up is likely to be Ashish Nehra, Sreesanth, Ishant Sharma and Pragyan Ojha. There's is a doubt over Sreesanth, though, because the bowler has an upset stomach. If he is unfit one of the rookies - Sudeep Tyagi, R Ashwin and Ashok Dinda - could get a look in.
India (possible): 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 Suresh Raina, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 6 Rohit Sharma, 7 Yusuf Pathan, 8 Pragyan Ojha, 9 Sreesanth, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Ashish Nehra.
Murali injured ligaments in a couple of fingers while training during the third Test and is likely to be rested from the Twenty20 matches.
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 2 Sanath Jayasuriya, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (capt & wk), 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Chamara Kapugedera, 6 Angelo Mathews, 7 Kaushalya Weeraratne, 8 Nuwan Kulasekara, 9 Ajantha Mendis, 10 Lasith Malinga, 11 Chanaka Welegedara.
Pitch and conditions
There's no rain forecast in Nagpur but the difference between day and night temperatures are significant which means dew could be a factor in the evening. The pitch is the same as the one on which India scored 354 in an ODI against Australia in October so expect more runs.
"It's a late evening start. We may see dew come into effect," MS Dhoni said. "But by the time dew comes in the game may be over. It won't be that big a factor. Overall it [pitch] will be good for batting, but in Twenty20 its very tough to predict. All of a sudden you look to go aggressive and lose quite a few wickets at quick intervals and you are not able to get big runs."
Stats and Trivia
- Both teams will be coming into this game on losing streaks - Sri Lanka have lost their last four (before which they had won six in a row) while India have lost their last three. Overall, Sri Lanka have a slightly better win-loss record, 14-9 in 23 games, compared to India's 9-7 in 18 matches.
- India have played only once at home and once against Sri Lanka, and have won both games - they beat Australia by seven wickets at the Brabourne Stadium in 2007, and Sri Lanka by three wickets in Colombo earlier this year.
- Sri Lanka have preferred batting first in Twenty20 games, winning nine and losing five. When batting second, they've won five and lost four. For India the numbers are almost the same - 5-4 when batting first, and 4-3 when chasing.
- Tillakaratne Dilshan is the leading run-scorer in Twenty20 internationals among batsmen from these two teams, with Sanath Jayasuriya in second place.
"We have to try and put the Test series behind us. We have a lot of hard work to do all around to keep improving and we have a good opportunity in these two Twenty20 games. The motivation is always there, but we need to start from scratch."
Kumar Sangakkara wants his team to get over the 2-0 defeat in the Test series.
"Considering we are playing in India, it would be a bit different for the bowlers, as the batsmen would go after them from the very first ball. It looks to be a small game, just four overs, but the amount of effort that's needed, that's what it is all about."
Dhoni says his bowlers might have more trouble making the transition from Tests to Twenty20.
George Binoy is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo