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Sri Lanka, new leader in tow, look to keep series alive

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Big Picture

So, Chamara Kapugedera will captain Sri Lanka in matches three and four. Let us quickly recap the recent sequence of events that led to this.

In June, then-captain Angelo Mathews was prevented from taking the fitness test that might have allowed him to play Sri Lanka's opening match of the Champions Trophy. That decision was made by the board, and had caused upset in pockets of the team - not least for then-coach Graham Ford. Then, stand-in captain Upul Tharanga, was suspended for two matches due to a very slow over rate. Mathews came back to lead the side, but resigned following the 3-2 loss to Zimbabwe, in early July. Finally, Tharanga, who was since named the permanent limited-overs captain, finds himself suspended for another two matches, after only two ODIs in the job.

And so, we come to a question worth substantial mulling over: how is it that Kapugedera - a player who averages 21.22 in 100 ODIs - became the primary leadership candidate? Lasith Malinga, who was Sri Lanka's captain during the World T20 triumph in 2014, and is a patently well-heeled and sharp-thinking cricketer, is in the side. Kusal Mendis, who has been Sri Lanka's most consistent ODI batsman of the past year, is in the side (though with him, there is a good argument that he should be left to bloom as a batsman, unburdened).

At this stage of Sri Lanka's cricket history, political and selectoral machinations seem to have greater bearing on the game's result than the obvious skill and effort of Sri Lanka's players. Just take the selectors' reasoning for appointing Kapugedera: "He was actually Upul's deputy in the first two matches, and we wanted to stick with him, rather than bringing someone from outside. We wanted someone who can hold his place in the side as well." Let us consider Kapugedera's record in the past five years: eight matches, six innings, 71 runs, an average of 11.83.

India were tested for the first time on tour, on Tuesday, but will take heart from the fact that they had the depth and quality to withstand even as inspired a spin-bowling surge as Akila Dananjaya's 6 for 54. But, actually, although this was the closest game of the tour, that has actually been the case throughout their time in Sri Lanka: all they've had to do was get through one or two outstanding Sri Lanka performances, then make easy runs or take easy wickets against the rest. They saw through Nuwan Pradeep in the Galle Test, Kusal Mendis and Dimuth Karunaratne at the SSC, Lakshan Sandakan in the Pallekele Test, then Niroshan Dickwella in the first ODI.

And right through the tour, their openers have soared. India's batting strength, really, is the middle order featuring Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni, but so far, they have made so much early ground on Sri Lanka, that a middle-order stutter does not necessarily have to be disastrous.

It has helped, of course, that India have won every toss. Sri Lanka will hope Kapugedera can change that. Along with a hundred other things.

Form guide

Sri Lanka LLLLW (completed matches, most recent first)
India WWWLW

In the spotlight

Akila Dananjaya had a fairly successful World T20 in 2012 after he was picked from obscurity, but despite some heartening performances, he was dropped during Sanath Jayasuriya's previous stint as chief selector. Now, as Sri Lanka's other limited-overs spin options have fizzled, he has become a great hope again - not without good reason. Even before that Pallekele spell, Dananjaya took 4 for 47 against Zimbabwe in Pallekele (then was dropped for Sri Lanka's next ODI - the first match of this series). His challenge will be to evolve. India will pick him better in the next match. Can he still be a menace if he can't rely on his mystery?

In bringing KL Rahul to No. 3, India have taken a minor gamble. In his first innings there, he was strung up in Dananjaya's web - the bowling having been of such high quality during that period, that failure is understandable. Nevertheless, Rahul will know there is hot competition for his position. Ajinkya Rahane, who was the highest scorer in India's most-recent full series, sits out because of him. Rahul will want to repay the selectors' faith with good scores through the remainder of the series.

Team news

Lahiru Thirimanne is likely to replace the injured Danushka Gunathilaka at the top of the order, while Dinesh Chandimal seems the obvious replacement for Tharanga, at No. 4.

Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 2 Lahiru Thirimanne, 3 Kusal Mendis, 4 Dinesh Chandimal, 5 Angelo Mathews, 6 Chamara Kapugedera (capt), 7 Milinda Siriwardana 8 Akila Dananjaya, 9 Dushmantha Chameera, 10 Vishwa Fernando, 11 Lasith Malinga

India are unlikely to change the composition of their side, but may "experiment" a little with their top order, according to fielding coach R Sridhar. This means Kohli may come in at No. 5 again, with Rahul and Kedar Jadhav batting above him. Sridhar also confirmed that it was cramps that obstructed Hardik Pandya in the previous game, so he should be good to go on Sunday.

India (possible): 1 Rohit Sharma, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 KL Rahul, 4 Kedar Jadhav, 5 Virat Kohli (capt), 6 MS Dhoni (wk), 7 Hardik Pandya, 8 Axar Patel, 9 Yuzvendra Chahal, 10 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 11 Jasprit Bumrah

Pitch and conditions

Perhaps given Dananjaya's success, Sri Lanka will be tempted to have a spin-friendly track prepared in Pallekele.

There is a chance showers will interrupt play, as is ever the case at this venue.

Stats and trivia

  • Dananjaya had not bowled in an ODI before 2017, but his T20 stats were five matches, seven wickets, average of 13.57, and economy rate of 6.78, before he was left out of the Sri Lanka team for four-and-a-half years. He now has 11 ODI wickets in three bowling innings.

  • Rohit Sharma's 54 in Pallekele was only his second fifty in 23 ODI innings in Sri Lanka. He averages 16.14 on the island.

  • With 99 stumpings to his name, MS Dhoni needs one more to claim the record for most ODI stumpings. At present, he is tied with Sangakkara, who took 353 keeping innings to get to 99, in comparison with Dhoni's 293. Sangakkara has taken more catches per innings, however.

  • Bhuvneshwar Kumar hit his maiden ODI fifty on Tuesday, but remains the only India bowler not to have picked up a wicket in Sri Lanka yet.

Quotes

"Even before the series started, we all knew that there was going to be some experiments from us going ahead over the next 18 months. It has been a great learning. We'll try out different players in different slots to get the best exposure to get the best out of each player. That's the endeavour of the team management."
India fielding coach R Sridhar on the flexibility of the team's plans

"It is a huge honour for me to captain my country. I am really happy to get this opportunity. I am not here to look at the past. Now it is about what is going to happen tomorrow."
Stand-in captain Chamara Kapugedera on leading, and on his record