Kohli's captaincy in focus against favourite opposition
Match factsTuesday, July 2
Start time 0930 (1430 GMT)
Triangular tournaments can be hard on the ego of the team that leaves the competition first. Unlike a bigger multi-team tournament, there is no consolatory semi-final finish, or a bronze medal. There is only a lonely last place. This series has just started, but with West Indies nine points clear of both India and Sri Lanka, that last-place tag, for now, has gravitated towards the two subcontinent sides. The familiar foes, who have played each other in five different countries in the last couple of years, both need a win in the last match of the series at Sabina Park to ensure some breathing space before the entourage moves to Port of Spain.
That these two teams know each other inside out is common knowledge. While the familiarity has worked in India's favour as their batsmen have decoded the unconventionality of Sri Lanka's attack, the same can't be said about the latter. They have repeatedly wilted against India's simple game plan - 'whatever you score, we'll do better'. The result is that when the two meet, it is almost like India's XI is up against Sri Lanka's IX, with the threat posed by Lasith Malinga and Ajantha Mendis to other teams reduced to a dud against India batsmen.
In cricket, however, most of the times, it is not a test of man-to-man strength. A special innings, an outstanding spell or even an exceptional instance of fielding is all that is required to overcome an opposition. On Friday, it was Chris Gayle who did that; on Sunday, it was Johnson Charles who blazed away. Sri Lanka have players who can do that as well - Kumar Sangakkara showed it against England in a tall chase at The Oval during the Champions Trophy - but the question is, can they do it against India?
India's juggernaut was brought to a halt on Sunday by West Indies, but only just. West Indies' bowlers set a template on how to stifle India's stroke-makers on a slow pitch, and their batsmen then rolled along comfortably as the surface eased out. In the absence of MS Dhoni, who didn't take the field after injuring his hamstring while batting, India fought hard, but were tripped by a resolute last-wicket stand. Virat Kohli, the stand-in captain, admitted the team missed Dhoni's calmness during that frantic ending.
Sri Lanka haven't been in their best form, but as West Indies proved, this young Indian side is beatable. With Dhoni ruled out of the rest of this series, the imbalance between the two sides has slightly been redressed.
India LWWWW (Most recent first, last five completed matches)
Sri Lanka LLWWL
In the spotlight
Virat Kohli's reputation in world cricket received a huge boost the day he hammered the Sri Lanka bowling for a breathtaking century in Hobart in February 2012 . He scored two more against Sri Lanka in his next two matches, then another one three matches later. Since then, he has gone through a lean phase against other attacks. But when India met Sri Lanka in the Champions Trophy semi-final, Kohli helped himself to an unbeaten 58, dispelling any doubts about which team is his favourite opposition. In Kingston, Kohli will be burdened with captaincy, too, and it remains to be seen if he can flourish this time.
There is no doubt that Lasith Malinga has been one of the leading limited-overs bowlers in world cricket in recent times but what has been hard to fathom is why a top bowler has been unable to come up with a counter-strategy against Indian batsmen. He has ample skill, pace and variations in his armoury, but still he has failed to find the right combination that would work against the India batsmen. Players evolve during their careers but can Malinga do it?
While Ambati Rayudu was named as the replacement for Dhoni, the only reserve India batsman at the moment in the Caribbean is M Vijay, the opener. If he is included, the batting order will need a careful rejig. It is hard to see the team disturbing Rohit Sharma or Shikhar Dhawan at the top of the order.
India (probable) 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 Rohit Sharma, 3 Virat Kohli (capt), 4 M Vijay, 5 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 6 Suresh Raina, 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Ishant Sharma, 11 Umesh Yadav
Sri Lanka's move to open with Mahela Jayawardene and Upul Tharanga paid dividends, but the rest of their batting slowed the innings down on Friday. But they do not have much room to wiggle in their batting order. However, one move they might consider given the slow nature of the Kingston pitch could be to include Sachithra Senanayake.
Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Mahela Jayawardene, 2 Upul Tharanga, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 4 Dinesh Chandimal, 5 Angelo Mathews (capt), 6 Lahiru Thirimanne, 7 & 8 two of Ajantha Mendis/Sachithra Senanayake/Jeevan Mendis, 9 Nuwan Kulasekara, 10 Rangana Herath, 11 Lasith Malinga
Pitch and conditionsThe conditions at Sabina Park have meant batsmen have struggled for fluency in the first half of the match and they are likely to stay the same. It is a slow pitch with some lateral movement early on, but it eases out during the second half. Just like West Indies did both times, the team that wins the toss will prefer to field.
Stats and trivia
- India and Sri Lanka have played 41 ODIs against each other in the last five years - that is 15 more than the next most-prolific match-up of Bangladesh-Zimbabwe. Overall, the two teams have met each other 140 times in ODIs, also a record. Australia-West Indies have played against each other 135 times.
- It's not a surprise then that three Sri Lankans and four Indians have scored more than 1000 runs in such contests in the last five years, the top-seven batting efforts against a particular team. Shane Watson, with 930 runs against England, is the eighth batsman in this list.
- The India and Sri Lanka bowlers haven't done quite as well as their batting counterparts. It's understandable since most of these matches are played on flat wickets. For wickets taken against a particular opposition in the last five years, three Sri Lanka bowlers are in the top 10 for doing it against India. Lasith Malinga is there, too, but the opposition in his case is Australia. Only one India bowler - Zaheer Khan v Sri Lanka - makes it to the list.
"There were times when you are under pressure and you miss him (Dhoni) because he remains calm under pressure."
Stand-in India captain Virat Kohli on the narrow loss to West Indies
Devashish Fuloria is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo