Sri Lanka see opportunity in India's injuries
Thursday, December 24
Start time 14:30 (09:00 GMT)
The 2-1 scoreline is not unexpected given the way India have pushed Sri Lanka to the brink in all but one game - a Twenty20 - played in the limited-overs leg of the tour. But now, with the home team missing two match-winners, a hurting Sri Lanka have a realistic chance of leveling the series.
This will be the first time since MS Dhoni's debut in 2004 that India play an ODI without him and Yuvraj Singh. Dhoni has often said that missing Yuvraj is a big blow, so how India cope with the loss of their captain and best batsman in ODIs in addition to Yuvraj will be crucial.
The tour has seen so many players succumbing to injuries it's a surprise the rest have managed to get so far. Sri Lanka have lost the services of Thilan Thushara, Muttiah Muralitharan, Dilhara Fernando and Angelo Mathews. Nuwan Kulasekara missed the Tests but returned for the shorter versions. Yuvraj had a recurrence of his finger injury and has been indefinitely ruled out. Sreesanth is yet to feature after getting the flu, while Lasith Malinga overcame it in time for the last game. Thankfully, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Virender Sehwag overcame minor scares.
But there is always fear - especially among bowlers - of another injury around the corner. Three of them have shouldered the burden of carrying their respective attacks: for the hosts, the experienced duo of Harbhajan Singh (187.2 overs bowled so far) and comeback man Zaheer Khan (131) are in need of breaks. On the other hand, Sri Lanka thrust the rookie Chanaka Welegedara (126 overs) into the forefront on his first major series and he will be longing for a breather at the business end of a testing tour. This is the start of another busy season for India and there isn't much time to think ahead. Wrapping up the series in Kolkata will allow India to rest weary players ahead of the Bangladesh tour starting January 4. Sri Lanka also feature in the tri-series that kicks off that tour but, needing to win both their remaining matches in India, cannot afford the luxury of rotation.
The pitch, one that's expected to play slow and low in the latter half, will favour India's spinners who found rhythm and confidence in Cuttack. Chilly temperatures, the dew factor and a slow-paced track mean that the bowlers will need to produce another special performance. With bitter cold and early morning fog expected to have a telling impact in Delhi, the venue for the fifth match, India will be keen to wrap up the series here.
Form guide(last five completed matches, most recent first)
India - WLWLL
Sri Lanka - LWLLL
Watch out for...
Tillakaratne Dilshan v Harbhajan Singh and Ravindra Jadeja: Sri Lanka's strength lies, keeping with tradition, at the top of the order. In Tillakaratne Dilshan they have a batsman at the height of his powers, equally adept at firing in the first over and taking charge of the slog overs. A converted opener, Dilshan has acquitted himself superbly this year and his centuries in Rajkot and Cuttack kept India sweating all the way. His ability to play unconventional shots on either side of the stumps makes it critical for the spinners to plot their modus operandi against him with care. In the first match of the series, Dilshan collected 36 runs from 23 deliveries faced against Ravindra Jadeja but was more sedate against Harbhajan Singh, who allowed just 17 from 26 balls before he bowled Dilshan for 160. In the second ODI, Dilshan took 33 runs from 27 balls faced from Harbhajan, but just 18 from the 33 Jadeja bowled at him. Dilshan didn't last long enough to face spin in Cuttack, and if the pair comes up against him tomorrow, the margin for error will be miniscule.
Lasith Malinga v Virender Sehwag: Lasith Malinga's ability to sling out top-order batsmen hasn't been evident recently on the international stage, owing largely to the injuries that have restricted him to just 10 ODIs in 2009. In the absence of Muttiah Muralitharan and Dilhara Fernando, Sri Lanka's most experienced bowler has to deliver early if Sri Lanka want to keep Virender Sehwag quiet. Fast bowlers have accounted for Sehwag in his last nine innings, and getting him out early in every game was crucial to Australia's recent series win in India. On his comeback in Cuttack, Malinga's first over cost 16 with Sehwag blasting three fours. Sehwag was dismissed by Chanaka Welegedara and didn't get a chance to face Malinga further, but sparks could fly if they face off in Kolkata.
Virat Kohli will step in for Yuvraj and hope to build on his impressive 54 last week.
India: 1 Virender Sehwag (capt), 2 Sachin Tendulkar, 3 Gautam Gambhir, 4 Virat Kohli, 5 Suresh Raina, 6 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 Zaheer Khan, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Ashish Nehra.
Sri Lanka don't have any new fitness worries but they need to address their middle-order problems. Chamara Kapugedera struggled for fluency in Cuttack before a loose shot sent him back, and Sri Lanka should really reconsider Sanath Jayasuriya over Thilan Samaraweera not least because of the left-arm spinning option he creates.
Sri Lanka: 1 Upul Tharanga, 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (capt/wk), 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Sanath Jayasuriya/Chamara Kapugedera, 6 Thilina Kandamby, 7 Nuwan Kulasekara, 8 Suraj Randiv, 9 Lasith Malinga, 10 Ajantha Mendis, 11 Chanaka Welegedara.
Pitch and conditions
Kolkata's Eden Gardens is set to host an ODI after nearly three years. It last hosted an ODI in February 2007, when Sri Lanka toured India for a short series before the World Cup. The dew factor is expected to play a large role and with a 2.30pm start, and the sun setting fairly early, the teams could have some slippery conditions while fielding under lights.
Stats and trivia
- The highest ODI total at the Eden Gardens is Sri Lanka's 309 in 49.4 overs against Pakistan in 1997.
- Head-to-head in Kolkata, India and Sri Lanka have each won and lost a game, with the third being ruined by February rain.
- The largest margin of victory in an ODI at this venue is India's 102-run win over West Indies in in 1993.
"We have to get back to scoring runs so that we can put pressure on the opposition. It does not matter what team you are. If you are under pressure, you will lose wickets. Good sides make their own luck."
Trevor Bayliss, Sri Lanka's coach, has put the onus on the batsmen.
Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo