<
>

Series lost, Sri Lanka chase assured World-Cup spot

Big Picture

Riot police, bottle-throwing, selector resignations, heated debates over cricket in cabinet meetings, and an ever-growing list of injuries - the past few days in Sri Lankan cricket have been as acrimonious as any in recent memory. Every time the situation seems to have reached rock bottom, new depths, somehow, are plumbed.

There remain two ODIs in Colombo, however, and though the series has been decided, Sri Lanka are playing for a little more than pride. They must win the two remaining games to seal automatic qualification for the 2019 World Cup. Lose them both, and they will automatically qualify only if West Indies win no more than three of their five ODIs against England next month (and do not lose the one-off game to Ireland). If Sri Lanka win one of the remaining games, then they must hope that West Indies do not win all six of their upcoming matches. But so resurgent have West Indies been this week that this is not a chance Sri Lanka will want to take. Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels have also returned to West Indies' ODI side for that series, a truce with their board having been reached.

Where in the Tests Sri Lanka's toothless bowling set the tone for each dispiriting performance, the batting has been the greater of Sri Lanka's failings in the ODIs - the top order having failed to sustain whatever little momentum they could generate, and the middle order repeatedly failing to contend with India's spinners.

India, meanwhile, have almost seemed bored on this tour. Several batsmen have buffed their stats, and in the third match Jasprit Bumrah claimed a maiden ODI five-wicket haul, but at times all they have to do is turn up and watch the opposition sabotage themselves. Chamara Kapugedera's decision to bat first after winning Sri Lanka's first toss of the series, for example, was baffling - not least to some of his own team-mates.

But with the series secure, this is India's chance to test the depth in their squad. Kuldeep Yadav, who was so impressive in the West Indies, may finally get a run. Ajinkya Rahane or Manish Pandey will hope to earn a spot in the middle order - KL Rahul and Kedar Jadhav having been unconvincing in their two innings so far in the series. Virat Kohli has repeatedly expressed a preference to play his first-choice XI right through this tour, but India might gain more from these matches by giving their fringe players a run.

Form guide

Sri Lanka LLLLL(completed matches, most recent first)
India WWWWL

In the spotlight

For so long one of the cleverest limited-overs operators, Lasith Malinga has the chance to captain Sri Lanka. There is a good argument that in a parallel universe, where Malinga's ankle and knee joints were not so problematic, and his attitude did not rub people up the wrong way, he could have been a wonderful long-term captain. Upul Tharanga is set to return in the fifth match, but for one match at least, it may be fascinating to get a glimpse of what kind of ODI leader Malinga might have been.

In his first 22 innings in Sri Lanka, Rohit Sharma had averaged 14.25, and hit only one fifty. In the space of two innings now, he has scored 54 and 124 not out. These are not good signs for Sri Lanka, who have been on the receiving end of one of the great limited-overs onslaughts at Rohit's hands. In the second half of his innings on Sunday, Rohit began to hit effortless boundaries off good deliveries - a sign that he is nearing his best form. With Shikhar Dhawan also in good nick on this tour, restraining India's openers represents a major challenge for the hosts.

Team news

Opening batsman Dilshan Munaweera - uncapped in ODIs - has been called up to the squad to cover for Kapugedera. With Dinesh Chandimal out and Danushka Gunathilaka still doubtful for Thursday's match due to his shoulder strain, Munaweera could well open the innings alongside Niroshan Dickwella. If Gunathilaka does not recover in time, however, Sri Lanka may find themselves one batsman short, and may have to field Thisara Perera in the lower middle order.

Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 2 Danushka Gunathilaka/Dilshan Munaweera, 3 Kusal Mendis, 4 Lahiru Thirimanne, 5 Angelo Mathews, 6 Milinda Siriwardana 7 Thisara Perera 8 Akila Dananjaya, 9 Dushmantha Chameera, 10 Vishwa Fernando, 11 Lasith Malinga (capt.)

Batsman Manish Pandey, left-arm wristspinner Kuldeep Yadav and seamer Shardul Thakur may all have an opportunity in this match, with Kedar Jadhav, Yuzvendra Chahal and Bhuvneshwar Kumar the most likely to make way.

India (possible): 1 Rohit Sharma, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Virat Kohli (capt.), 4 KL Rahul, 5 Manish Pandey, 6 MS Dhoni (wk), 7 Hardik Pandya, 8 Axar Patel, 9 Kuldeep Yadav, 10 Shardul Thakur, 11 Jasprit Bumrah

Pitch and conditions

There was a little grass on the Khettarama surface on the eve of the match, which suggests there will be a little more pace and carry than is ordinarily seen at this venue. There is a chance afternoon and evening showers will interrupt play.

Stats and trivia

  • Lasith Malinga needs one more wicket to reach 300 ODI dismissals. He will be 13th bowler overall, and the fourth Sri Lankan after Muttiah Muralitharan, Chaminda Vaas and Sanath Jayasuriya, to the milestone.

  • This will also be MS Dhoni's 300th ODI. He will be the 20th cricketer overall, and the sixth India player to the milestone. His ODI match tally also includes three matches for Asia XI in 2007.

  • Dhoni is also on 99 stumpings and needs just one more to become the most prolific ODI stumper, moving clear ahead of Kumar Sangakkara.

  • Under Virat Kohli's captaincy India have won all eight bilateral ODI matches against Sri Lanka. The only occasions Sri Lanka have beaten a Kohli-led India have come at neutral grounds, at multi-team tournaments: once at the Asia Cup, once in a tri-series in the West Indies, and once at the Champions Trophy.

Quotes

"I feel captaincy is a good challenge for me. At the moment, we have lost a few matches - yes. I have played for the last fourteen years for the national team, and I still feel we have good young players. A few good experienced players also. This is the time we have to stand up and give confidence to young players - to let them know we are still good enough to play international cricket. People think we are not top of the table, but I feel we can change that." Stand-in captain Lasith Malinga on leading for one game.