Sri Lanka v India, 1st ODI, Dambulla January 27, 2009

Batting stars give India the advantage

Match facts

Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Start time 10:00 local, (04:30 GMT)

The Big Picture


The presence of Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag should further bolster India's strong batting line-up © AFP
 

India begin a short limited-overs series in Sri Lanka after success in both forms of the game over the last six months. They beat England 5-0 in November 2008 and had earlier notched up an impressive 3-2 series win in Sri Lanka - and they have a much stronger side this time, with Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar both fit.

India were pretty clueless against the spin wizardry of Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis in the Test series last year, but tackled them well in the limited-overs contest. So well, in fact, that Murali's four wickets in four matches at 43 apiece were his worst series figures at home since India toured Sri Lanka in 1997 (among series with a minimum of three ODIs). On paper, the equilibrium tilts India's way considering their consistency in the last six months.

Sri Lanka have won six of their last seven ODI series but have not been as convincing. The batting struggled against Zimbabwe and they lost a match to Bangladesh recently, and that will be a worry even though the side is boosted by emphatic back-to-back wins over Pakistan last week. There is another worry: They have traditionally frightened opponents at home but defeats to Pakistan, England and India have opened up cracks. Mahela Jayawardene will be keen to dismiss those as bugs in an otherwise remarkable record in Sri Lanka. Making the early running in a series compressed to 17 days will be essential.

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Nuwan Kulasekara had a fantastic 2008 in ODI cricket, and his start to this year hasn't been too shabby. In six matches in 2009, he has taken 12 wickets at 13.33. With Chaminda Vaas cutting down his workload, Kulasekara has become Sri Lanka's premier quick bowler in this format. His numbers over the past year - 45 wickets at 18.86 - and his success against India in their last series - 11 wickets at 14.45 - make Kulasekara a serious threat.

When India toured Sri Lanka last, Mahendra Singh Dhoni didn't have it easy. With Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar absent and the top order struggling, Dhoni and Suresh Raina were left with plenty to do. He had it easier in India's last ODI series, against England at home, when the batsmen fired but this promises to be a sterner test. Knowing Dhoni's competitive nature, he will want to stamp his mark with the bat again.

The aura over Ajantha Mendis, who recently became the quickest bowler to 50 ODI wickets, diminished somewhat when Pakistan's batsmen handled him efficiently. Mendis picked up four wickets at 20.00 in three games without being as threatening as he was in the Asia Cup. On the favourable home pitches, though, Mendis will always be a factor.

Sachin Tendulkar has never faced Mendis in an ODI. Injury ruled him out of the last contest in Sri Lanka but his return reinforces India's top order. He averages 41.81 over the past 12 months and 42.00 in Sri Lanka. How he handles an in-form pace attack could prove a key component of this series.

Team news

Sri Lanka's selectors have retained, for the first three ODIs, the 15-man squad that beat Pakistan 2-1. Tillakaratne Dilshan's promotion to opener in Pakistan worked stupendously - he scored 255 runs, including an unbeaten 137 in the decider - and he is likely to continue in that role. Sri Lanka's batting has struggled in recent games against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe but against Pakistan they put up good numbers, bar Jayawardene. Thilina Kandamby's inclusion in place of Jehan Mubarak worked wonders and he and Chamara Kapugedera will bolster the middle order. The bowlers pretty much pick themselves given their successes recently.

Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Sanath Jayasuriya, 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 4 Mahela Jayawardene (capt), 5 Thilina Kandamby, 6 Chamara Kapugedera, 7 Thilan Thushara, 8 Farveez Maharoof, 9 Nuwan Kulasekara, 10 Muttiah Muralitharan, 11 Ajantha Mendis

India are certain to go in with the three fast bowlers who did well in Dambulla last year - Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and Munaf Patel - and possibly a fourth. In that case, it will be a toss-up between Pragyan Ojha and Praveen Kumar. Ojha will be given opportunities in this series with Harbhajan Singh, the frontline spinner, injured. Sehwag and Tendulkar will open, while a red-hot Yuvraj Singh will drop down to No. 4. Yuvraj has struggled against spin in Sri Lanka but India will hope his recent success rubs off against Murali and Mendis. Suresh Raina is likely to get the nod ahead of Rohit Sharma.

India (probable) 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Sachin Tendulkar, 3 Gautam Gambhir, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 Suresh Raina/Rohit Sharma, 6 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt/wk), 7 Yusuf Pathan, 8 Praveen Kumar/Pragyan Ojha, 9 Zaheer Khan, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Munaf Patel.

Pitch & conditions

The captains expect a seaming pitch, which explains India's strategy to play as many as four seamers. The weather is likely to be clear as well, and the team winning the toss might want to put the opposition in.

Stats & Trivia

  • Sri Lanka have won 14 out of 20 ODIs at the Rangiri Dambulla Stadium

  • India have won three out of seven matches here, but have only won one of five games against Sri Lanka.

  • Dambulla has traditionally been a low-scoring venue: in 32 ODI innings since 2004, only seven times has a team scored at a run-rate of five or more.

  • Murali has a bowling average of 14.21 and an economy rate of 3.33 runs per over at this ground, with 32 wickets from 14 ODIs.

  • Murali, who has taken 500 wickets, need three to go past Wasim Akram, the highest wicket-taker in ODIs. Sixty-nine of those have come against India at an average of 29.39.

  • Sanath Jayasuriya's record in Dambulla isn't as impressive - an average of 24.26, with just one half-century in 17 innings.

  • Since 2007, spin has fared slightly better in Dambulla. The slow bowlers have taken 54 wickets here at an average of 19.65 and an economy rate of 3.64. The fast bowlers have taken the same number of wickets at 22.14 and an economy rate of 3.99.

    Quotes

    "I'd like to get more runs and contribute more to the team's totals. This is something I have been working really hard on. I hope I get it right against the Indians."
    Mahela Jayawardene is determined to reverse his indifferent batting form

    "We did not know what was coming out of his hand and how much variations he had. But when you play constantly against the same bowler, tackling him becomes easier. This time, we will start on an even platform against him."
    Gautam Gambhir, who made 36 runs in four ODIs in Sri Lanka last year, feels India are better prepared this time to counter Mendis

    Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo