Orthodoxy is the best form of attack
The success of the bowlers in a low-scoring series has left the batsmen with plenty to do as the bandwagon moves back to Colombo for the last three matches. The indifference of the batsmen in the first two matches in Dambulla has given both sides cause for concern, and both captains have banked on a more traditional ODI track to nudge ahead in the series. Regardless of the nature of the track, the two sides need to sort out their batting problems.
On Wednesday, Sri Lanka were 44 for 6 by the 18th over of their innings and India were 75 for 5 by the end of the 20th over. The damage had been done by the bowlers and India were only saved by a smart 60-run partnership between Mahendra Singh Dhoni and debutant S Badrinath. The orthodox approach the two took, getting down and dirty to knuckle towards victory, could be the best way for the two teams' batsmen to approach the first of three fixtures at the Premadasa Stadium, a ground built on swamp land, and with a spin-friendly reputation.
Kumar Sangakkara, the Sri Lankan wicketkeeper, feels the batsmen have been indecisive so far, and felt that orthodoxy would pay out over panache. "We've seen two low-scoring games in Dambulla, where it was hard to know when the time was to play your shots," he told Cricinfo, "because at the start it was hard to get into rhythm when the ball was doing a lot. There was not enough solidarity. That attitude is vital in any form of cricket: stick around, watch the ball, and hit it. In one-day cricket there are field restrictions so a batsman can try his luck with the new ball but good orthodox cricket and patient shots always wins in the end."
In eschewing the extravagant shots and nudging the ball around for singles and the odd harried double, Dhoni and Badrinath proved that Mendis could be thwarted. In contrast, India's top order perished even before spin had arrived in the first match. Similarly, Sri Lanka's batting order capsized in trying to dominate from the outset.
"We were a bit disappointed the way we handled that situation," said Mahela Jayawardene. "We knew it was going to be a tough period in that morning session and wanted to execute certain plans. We couldn't, and that game is gone."
|Bumping Yuvraj Singh, better against pace than spin, down the order may be a wise move. If the others before him can handle Mendis and Murali and set a platform Yuvraj can be devastating at the end|
For starters, the teams would do well to identify what a match-winning total is. The average score at the Premadasa since 2000 has been 230. The difference, starting tomorrow, could well be who plays the patient innings. During his Asia Cup final hundred Sanath Jayasuriya batted time out while four early wickets fell, set himself up, and played a match-winning century. Gautam Gambhir played the prototype of the perfect one-day innings against Sri Lanka in Brisbane earlier this year, and remains the man India need to bat around.
Given the threat posed by Muttiah Muralitharan and Mendis after the Powerplays, the role of a player like Gambhir is significant, given his success against them in the Tests. Dhoni, a noted floater, needs to come up the order and aim to bat for a long time. Bumping Yuvraj Singh, better against pace than spin, down the order may be a wise move. If the others before him can handle Mendis and Murali and set a platform Yuvraj can be devastating at the end.
Sri Lanka's preferred opening combination in the series, Jayasuriya and Sangakkara, has yet to fire and bar two innings from Jayawardene and Chamara Kapugedera in the opener, the middle order has been poor. Instead of playing their shots, like they did in Dambulla, the batsmen may find success working themselves in and accelerating later.
India's nervous victory in the second Dambulla fixture has revived a series which many reckoned Sri Lanka would sweep after Mendis and Murali walloped India in the Tests. Now, with the series level at 1-1, both teams have everything to play for at the Premadasa. A traditional one-day venue it is, and a traditional approach from the batsmen could prove crucial.
Jamie Alter is a staff writer at Cricinfo