Formidable Sri Lanka face rejuvenated Indians
After Monday's curtain-raiser that never was, Sri Lanka and India will attempt to breathe some life into the Unitech Cup at the Premadasa Stadium on Wednesday, though another heavy downpour late on Tuesday evening was perhaps a portent of what lay ahead. Sri Lanka, always formidable opponents on their own soil, start as favourites, but Rahul Dravid insisted that the constant talk of security over the past 24 hours hadn't been preying on the minds of his players. "For others, the focus might have gone off cricket, but as far as we're concerned, it's always been on it."
It will need to be, because India's record in Sri Lanka is nothing to crow about. The hosts have won 19 of 33 matches, with India victorious only on nine occasions. At the Premadasa, the record is even more skewed, with Sri Lanka prevailing on 12 occasions to India's five. The past though counts for little these days, with India having given Pakistan a 4-1 hammering across the border and Sri Lanka humiliating England 5-0 less than two months ago.
For the Indians, the return of Sachin Tendulkar, who last wore the sky-blue one-day kit at Multan in February, is a massive boost, and he appeared in excellent touch when the team practised at the Premadasa on Tuesday afternoon. The batting order otherwise picks itself, though fever and a bad cold kept Mohammad Kaif away from practice. In the event of him failing to recover, Suresh Raina or Dinesh Mongia will come into the middle order.
The bowling selection won't be quite as straightforward. Normally, the Premadasa has a spin-friendly reputation, but with so much rain having fallen over the past few days, both teams could go in with pace-heavy attacks. With India having Virender Sehwag, Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh to share the slow-bowling burden with Harbhajan Singh, Ramesh Powar may have to sit out, with Sreesanth and Munaf Patel bolstering the new-ball pairing of Irfan Pathan and Ajit Agarkar.
Sri Lanka, after their romp through England, have no such selection conundrums. Sanath Jayasuriya and Upul Tharanga have been in dazzling form at the top of the order, while Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara are enjoying the sort of purple patches that can best be described as frightening for opponents, and the exuberant hitting of Tillakaratne Dilshan and Chamara Kapugedera is usually required only to apply the finishing touches.
Traditionally, Sri Lanka have triumphed with spin at the Premadasa, but in these wet conditions, they too might leave out the legspin of Malinga Bandara in favour of the X-factor pace of Lasith Malinga. Muttiah Muralitharan will doubtless be the main threat, come rain or shine, and how the Indian batsmen cope with the questions he poses in the middle overs might well dictate the outcome of the game.
India (likely): 1 Rahul Dravid (capt), 2 Sachin Tendulkar, 3 Irfan Pathan, 4 Virender Sehwag, 5 Yuvraj Singh, 6 Suresh Raina, 7 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), 8 Ajit Agarkar, 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Sreesanth, 11 Munaf Patel.
Sri Lanka (likely): 1 Sanath Jayasuriya, 2 Upul Tharanga, 3 Mahela Jayawardene (capt), 4 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 5 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 6 Chamara Kapugedera, 7 Farveez Maharoof, 8 Chaminda Vaas, 9 Dilhara Fernando, 10 Muttiah Muralitharan, 11. Lasith Malinga.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo