June 08, 2017
Start time 1030 local (0930 GMT)
Truth be told, Sri Lanka have often had the knack of winding up in the "easy group" in world tournaments. In years gone by, this has meant being clubbed with perhaps England and Bangladesh. They used to skip casually through the group stages, and would generally make a strong push in the back end of a tournament as well. Between 2009 and 2014, Sri Lanka made six ICC tournament semi-finals. Between 2007 and 2014, they played in five major finals.
They find themselves in what appears to be the easier of the two groups again, but unusually, they are not sauntering past their opponents. This time, they seem to be among the weaker teams, laying down like stepping stones for other sides to trod on. South Africa have already been given their 96-run win. Now come the other heavyweights in the group, India, who in demolishing Pakistan, and eviscerating their two warm-up opponents, barely seemed to be breaking a sweat.
Meanwhile, India have settled on an ODI formula that teams have struggled to upset for now. They are unambitious in the opening 10 overs, venturing no more than 49 during the first Powerplay on average, since the last World Cup. Then, typically with Virat Kohli at the crease, comes a sustained middle-overs surge which yields screeds of brisk but risk-free runs, which form the backbone of the innings. Then, with Yuvraj Singh, Hardik Pandya or MS Dhoni marshalling the death overs, the team eclipses 300 and set themselves up in an imposing position.
There is quality in India's attack too, with Bhuvneshwar Kumar gleaning swing with the new ball, and Jasprit Bumrah closing innings out. And whatever the present situation between coach Anil Kumble and captain Kohli, on-field performance does not appear to have been affected yet.
Sri Lanka will have to spring a major surprise at The Oval. They need an Angelo Mathews mauling, or a Lasith Malinga charge to derail India, and shake the match from the course most expect it to take.
They also must do without Chamara Kapugedara, who injured his knee at training on match eve and was ruled out of the tournament. Sri Lanka will draft in Danushka Gunathilaka, who is in England as a standby player.
Sri Lanka LWLLL (completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
As evidenced in the game against South Africa, Sri Lanka have had trouble rotating the strike during the middle overs, and it appears part of the reason is the scoring rate of Dinesh Chandimal. Though he had an outstanding 2016, hitting six half-centuries in seven innings at one stage, he has otherwise been modest in the format. Among the 20 players to have faced more than 4000 balls since the start of 2010, Chandimal's strike rate of 74.85 is the second-lowest. More than 48% of the deliveries he faces are not scored from.
Few world batsmen relish playing Sri Lanka more than MS Dhoni. Two of his most memorable innings - the World Cup final knock, and the final-over blitz in the 2013 tri-series in the Caribbean - have come against them. His average of 61.35 is also, by a distance, his highest against any opponent in the Champions Trophy. Over 22% of his 9275 runs have also come against Sri Lanka alone. Even if Sri Lanka's bowlers can be penetrative early on, on Thursday, they cannot relax until they have dismissed perhaps their greatest tormentor of recent years.
Sri Lanka will likely open with Gunathilaka. There is a chance Thisara Perera may also enter the XI to beef up the batting, though the more aggressive choice - so long as the pitch is expected to take spin - would be to choose Lakshan Sandakan. The frontline pace trio of Malinga, Nuwan Pradeep and Suranga Lakmal may remain together.
Sri Lanka (possible) 1 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 2 Danushka Gunathilaka 3 Kusal Mendis, 4 Dinesh Chandimal, 5 Angelo Mathews (capt), 6 Asela Gunaratne, 7 Kusal Perera, 8 Thisara Perera, 9 Suranga Lakmal,10 Lasith Malinga, 11 Nuwan Pradeep
India may consider bringing R Ashwin into the attack - in place of Umesh Yadav perhaps - but as the surface has a little grass on it on the eve of the match, they are more than likely to remain unchanged.
India (possible) 1 Rohit Sharma, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Virat Kohli (capt), 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 Hardik Pandya, 6 MS Dhoni (wk), 7 Kedar Jadhav, 8 Ravindra Jadeja, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Umesh Yadav, 11 Jasprit Bumrah
Pitch and conditions
Signs are that the surface might be a little seam-friendly early on, but there are likely to be plenty of runs nonetheless. The weather is forecast to be cloudy but dry, with the temperature hovering around the high teens.
Stats and trivia
In the last 17 matches between these sides, going back to 2012, India have won 14
Though Sri Lanka often get a good start in the first Powerplay, their run rate of 5.01 between overs 11 and 40 is the slowest for any team in the tournament
Runs against Sri Lanka comprise a greater percentage of Kohli's overall tally than even for Dhoni. Of Kohli's 7836 career runs, almost 24% has come against Sri Lanka.
"They're a force in world cricket no matter where they play, whether it's at home or away. Especially in the last couple of years, they've been tremendous. It's very hard to beat them unless we are on top of our game."
Angelo Mathews on the challenge of playing India
"At the moment we are playing some good cricket, but that doesn't mean that we play with arrogance as a team. We respect every opposition the same way, and we intend to play the same kind of cricket against everyone. That's the only way to win a game of cricket. But there are no guarantees. In this sport, anyone can upset anyone on their given day."