India v Sri Lanka, 5th ODI, tri-series, Mirpur January 10, 2010

Youngsters spice up dull tournament

The emergence of Virat Kohli and Suraj Randiv, and the comeback of Upul Tharanga, have been the highlights of an otherwise dull tournament

Three youngsters have saved this tournament from becoming utterly forgettable. Virat Kohli, Upul Tharanga and Suraj Randiv have done their best to further their respective careers and, in the process, offered something to remember in an otherwise listless tournament.

Kohli shone today with yet another assured knock, though admittedly, the odds weren't stacked against him: Sri Lanka had long given up, the target wasn't stiff, the pitch was flat and the dew was doing its bit to help the batsmen. Still, men seemingly more talented than him, like Rohit Sharma, have failed to grab their opportunities in similar conditions. To appreciate what Kohli has done, it is pertinent to see what Rohit didn't do.

In 41 ODIs, Rohit's average is less than 25 and he hasn't hit a hundred. Yet, on first sight, it was Rohit who stood out with his flashy skills; those gorgeous, caressed cover drives and the extra time he appeared to have to play his shots made you sit up and watch. And hope. However, he failed to grab his chances and allowed an opening for Kohli to stake a firm claim.

When Sachin Tendulkar returns to the team, though, Kohli might have to give up his spot - he may have done enough to get ahead of Rohit but Suresh Raina is likely to edge him out at No.5 with his ability to play the bigger shots. But Raina, given Kohli's recent form, will be aware of the competition.

Like Kohli, Sri Lanka's Randiv turned in yet another quietly confident show today. He doesn't have the turn of Muttiah Muralitharan, the mystery of Ajantha Mendis or the traditional strengths of Rangana Herath. Yet he keeps churning out one tidy performance after another, much to the praise of his team management. Trevor Bayliss, the coach, reiterated today that Randiv was the best spinner in the last ODI series against India and, by bowling as well as he has in this tournament, has put immense pressure on the other spinners.

"He just came in as a net bowler not long ago but he has climbed the rungs really well," Bayliss said. "He works very hard and is proving to be a very good bowler for us." Just like Kohli versus Rohit, Randiv's competition, Mendis, looked better than him. But it's Randiv who is racing ahead by keeping things really simple: his release gives him the loop and the dip to keep the batsmen honest and he has, so far, bowled a full length while sticking to an off-stump line. And he didn't harm his cause by scoring his first half-century today.

Unlike Randiv, Tharanga didn't have a great day today but he has been quietly making giant strides. It's amazing how the man who threatens to displace Sanath Jayasuriya from the ODI opening slot has gone almost unnoticed. This is his second coming and he has almost made one forget the unsure, tentative Tharanga of old. His captain, coach and senior players have not spared an opportunity to talk him up for the World Cup. "What a strong comeback this has been," Mahela Jayawardene said last night after sharing a big opening partnership with him. "I haven't seen any youngster from Sri Lanka time the ball as sweetly as Tharanga is doing now in a long time. He always had the potential, had some good times before he hit a bit of a slump. He is back now and doing really well."

Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo