Now that both India and Sri Lanka have announced their 15-member squads for the World Cup, the third one-dayer at Goa on Wednesday will provide a sneak preview about their respective strategies.
India, as they have been doing over the last six games - four against West Indies and two against Sri Lanka - will continue to ask questions of themselves. Sri Lanka, wearing a more settled look and with a lead in the series, will have more on the agenda - to seal the series and avenge the 6-1 drubbing when they last toured India. Quite against the run of form, they had lost out in the first round of the Champions Trophy too. For India this match is another part of a protracted finetuning, for Sri Lanka another step in a confidence-building exercise, while the 27,000 or so Goans, who will be packing the stadium to the rafters, would surely want to witness another humdinger of a contest.
India go in with a few changes from the previous game. Irfan Pathan is still not 100 per cent fit and will miss out, while Sreesanth will be rested. Anil Kumble will miss the match due to personal reasons. Zaheer Khan and Ajit Agarkar are set to make a comeback, while Dinesh Karthik is most likely to make way for Yuvraj Singh. Sourav Ganguly batted with a bandage on his left thumb - he had injured his thumb at Rajkot - and looked in a bit of discomfort early on. But after a few knocks, he looked okay, as Dravid later confirmed. Suresh Raina and RP Singh, stand-in for the unfit players, were expected to join the team later in the day and not play tomorrow.
Yuvraj's fitness and form will be closely watched as he will be the most crucial batsman in the Indian middle-order for the World Cup. Last April, at the same venue, he had looked unstoppable. Probably at the brightest of his purple patch then, he had decimated England with a 76-ball 103. He is yet to get a century since and will look for a happy return to form. After a cruciate ligament tear during the Champions Trophy forced him out of international action, he has played only two one-dayers, against West Indies in the recently-concluded series. In those two matches, he did not show any palpable signs of his earlier form, and was forced out of the next two games against Sri Lanka because of back spasms. At the nets today Yuvraj batted, bowled, and fielded with a knee cap on. "In the last couple of games he had back spasms. He's fielded and batted. We feel he is fit enough to be considered in the 12. So we picked him," said Rahul Dravid at the pre-match press conference.
The other closely-watched Indian player will be Sehwag. Sometime ago his opening slot was set in stone; now recalled, the team is not sure where to use him. He batted in the middle-order in the last game and scored 19 off 23 before featuring in a soft late-cut dismissal. Dravid said they had not ruled out the option of Sehwag opening the innings tomorrow. ""We are all hoping he comes good. I think he's an innings away from coming good. If it happens tomorrow, great, if he doesn't we'll just have to wait a little longer."
Sri Lanka have not chosen their twelve so far and will take one final look at the pitch tomorrow morning before doing so. Missing from the nets was Kumar Sangakkara who had come down with an upset stomach. Sangakkara had scored a century at Rajkot and won the man-of-the-match award. But Mahela Jayawardene, the Sri Lankan captain, didn't sound worried. "It is nothing serious as such, he had a stomach upset in the morning. We felt that he doesn't need to come to the practice. He should be okay tomorrow," Jayawardene said.
Sri Lanka have not chosen their twelve so far and will take one final look at the pitch tomorrow morning before doing so. Missing from the nets was Kumar Sangakkara who had come down with an upset stomach. Sangakkara had scored a century at Rajkot and won the man-of-the-match award
With a series to be won, the Sri Lankans are not expected to experiment too much - two of their 15-man squad on this tour are not going to the World Cup and hence may not feature in this match. "Every game is a motivation for us. Winning is a good habit to have. We want to win every game and that has been the attitude for the last 12 months. The team that wants to beat us have to play really well. Winning the series would be a great achievement," Jayawardene said.
After losing the last match at Rajkot, Dravid, mindful that he was not leading the youngest team around, had conceded that a superior fielding effort from Sri Lanka had made the difference in the end. Fielding was indeed the focus for the first forty minutes at the nets today. After the team had a meeting for around 45 minutes, with all the members sitting on the ground in a circle, they got into fielding and running-between-the-wickets practice before they went for the nets. Greg Chappell, the coach, chucked balls at Ian Frazer, the team biomechanist, while the fielders ran in to field and throw and two batsmen were made to run between the wickets at the same time. Sri Lanka followed a more orthodox routine at the nets, an indicator of lesser concerns in fielding.
The pitch at the Nehru Stadium in Fatorda looks a batting beauty, a good flat one-day track as the euphemism would have it. Both the captains were of the opinion that the pitch should produce a big score while Dravid thought it would help spinners in the latter part of the day. Suryakant Naik, the curator, said the wicket would play evenly through the day, predicting 280 to 300 should be a good score. The weather in Goa promises to be rain-free, with temperatures expected to range between 26 and 31 degree Celsius. Humidity of 59 per cent is expected. India have played four matches at the Nehru Stadium and have lost three - two of them to Sri Lanka, who have played only one other game here, losing to Australia in 1989-90.
India (from): 1 Rahul Dravid (capt), 2 Sourav Ganguly, 3 Robin Uthappa, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 Virender Sehwag, 6 Yuvraj Singh, 7 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), 8 Ajit Agarkar, 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Munaf Patel, 11 Zaheer Khan, 12 Dinesh Karthik.
Sri Lanka (from): 1 Mahela Jayawardene (capt), 2 Sanath Jayasuriya, 3 Upul Tharanga, 4 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 5 Marvan Atapattu, 6 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 7 Chamara Silva, 8 Russel Arnold, 9 Upul Chandana, 10 Farveez Maharoof, 11 Lasith Malinga, 12 Dilhara Fernando, 13 Malinga Bandara, 14 Nuwan Zoysa, 15 Nuwan Kulasekera.