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August 23, 2008
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Start time 2.30pm (local time) 0900 (GMT)
Mahendra Singh Dhoni and S Badrinath saved India the blushes with a series-levelling win in Dambulla on Wednesday, but the manner in which the win was achieved suggests Sri Lanka remain the favourites for the next game. The venue will suit them too: the last three matches will all be played at the Premadasa Stadium, a venue in which they have won 44 ODIs and lost just 17, giving them a win-loss ratio which is among the best by any team at any ground.
It isn't just that history favours them; they are the better team on current form as well. The batting stuttered badly in the second game, but there's enough firepower and experience in the top order to ensure that the mistakes aren't repeated, while the bowling, especially in home conditions, hardly ever falters.
India, on the other hand, have plenty of top-order worries: the batting line-up has failed to decode the mysteries of Ajantha Mendis, and even a target of 143 seemed like a huge mountain to climb. Gautam Gambhir's return will be a plus, but the rest of the batsmen will need to lift it a couple of notches as well. The bowling, especially the display of Zaheer Khan, has been terrific so far, and the onus will probably be on them to cover up for the deficiencies of the batsmen.
Form guide (last 5 ODIs)
Sri Lanka LWWLW
Watch out for
Sanath Jayasuriya clearly loves facing the Indians at the Premadasa Stadium, and the fact that he has only scored 23 from two innings in the series so far suggests he is due for some runs. In his last seven innings against them here, Jayasuriya has topped 50 five times. Expect more fireworks on Sunday.
Gautam Gambhir has looked the best equipped to play spin among the current Indian batsmen, and if he sees off the new-ball threat, he could well provide the solidity that the team has lacked in the first two games.
Badrinath v Murali and Mendis: Badrinath handled the Sri Lankan spin threats with plenty of assurance in his debut innings. Can he repeat the act?
Sri Lanka's middle order folded without a trace last Wednesday, but Mahela Jayawardene made it clear that changes will not be made on the basis of that one display. That means Chamara Silva - who has six single-digit scores in his last nine ODI innings, including ducks in his last two - will retain his place. Chaminda Vaas is likely to return, though, after recovering from a hamstring niggle that kept him out of the previous ODI, and will get an opportunity to take the one wicket he needs to join Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Muttiah Muralitharan in the 400-wicket club. If Vaas passes the fitness test, Dilhara Fernando will probably sit out.
Sri Lanka (likely) 1 Sanath Jayasuriya, 2 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 3 Mahela Jayawardene (capt), 4 Chamara Silva, 5 Chamara Kapugedera, 6 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 7 Chaminda Vaas, 8 Nuwan Kulasekara, 9 Thilan Thushara, 10 Ajantha Mendis, 11 Muttiah Muralitharan.
With Gambhir having recovered from a stiff neck that kept him out of the second ODI, the Indian team will see at least one change. Rohit Sharma, who made a second-ball duck in that game and has struggled recently, will probably make way for Gambhir, while Badrinath will keep his place in the middle order after an impressive and composed unbeaten 27 on debut.
India (likely) 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Virat Kohli, 3 Suresh Raina, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt & wk), 6 S Badrinath, 7 Irfan Pathan, 8 Praveen Kumar, 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 Munaf Patel.
Pitch & conditions
The pitch is expected to be firm, and a better one for batting than in Dambulla, but the weather could have a major role to play as well: rains disrupted India's practice session today, and more thundershowers are forecast tomorrow. The Premadasa Stadium is tied with the SSC as the grounds to have hosted the maximum number of washed out games - six each - and if the forecast turns out to be accurate, this ground could sneak into sole leadership position in a rather unwanted category.
Stats & Trivia
"We were a bit disappointed the way we handled that situation in Dambulla. We knew it was going to be a tough period in that morning session. We've wanted to execute certain things which we couldn't. But that game's gone; it's a different wicket tomorrow and we have to prepare ourselves for this challenge."
Mahela Jayawardene is confident his batsmen won't repeat their mistakes from the second ODI.
"To see young players like Kohli and Badrinath come in and do well is promising, staking a claim for further honours. They took a bit of responsibility too. It's good to see young players come in and feel comfortable in the international set-up. It is very important for Indian cricket that we have competition for places."
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