Ravindra Jadeja's all-round skills could be tested later in the series © AFP
 

Two teams with fairly impressive recent ODI records face off as they search for the perfect combination. They are both in some sort of transition and, though this series offers them another opportunity to complete the puzzle, the rankings - India are at three, Sri Lanka at seven - offer a true reflection of the progress so far.

India have fewer pieces missing from the puzzle. Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh, despite his struggles against Ajantha Mendis, form a great top four and Mahendra Singh Dhoni is an effective enforcer in the middle. Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma are certainties with the new ball and Harbhajan Singh, who isn't on this tour due to injury, is the frontline spinner. That's eight easy pieces.

Much depends on the conditions - spin or seam - but it's the final three pieces India are sweating over. Munaf Patel has made a decent fist of his opportunities since returning to play in the CB Series in Australia, taking 14 wickets at an economy-rate of around 4.5 in his last 12 games. His closest challenger, Praveen Kumar, has 21 wickets in his last 14 games - 11 from the last nine matches at an economy-rate of around five - and is on a comeback after being dropped from the last ODI series India played, against England.

While Munaf can hit the right length and cut it, Praveen can strike with his swing. However, Praveen has been a struggling a touch in the recent times to get his stock delivery - the big inswinger - going. He believes it's the non-stop cricket over the past 36 months; his Uttar Pradesh bowling coach, Ashish Zaidi, feels the wrist position has gone awry.

Another battle has Yusuf Pathan up against the new challenge of Ravindra Jadeja. Both can hit the ball hard but Jadeja, with a very good arm-ball, offers a better bowling option than Yusuf, who has taken six wickets from 12 games at 5.79 runs per over. Dhoni indicated a chance for Jadeja later in the ODI series. Irfan Pathan is also in the allrounder mix and is likely to play if the conditions favour seam and swing.

Another tussle, since the return of Tendulkar to the ODI team, is between Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma. Dhoni said today that Raina is currently ahead of Rohit and had to grab his chances in this series. That leaves Pragyan Ojha who, Dhoni hinted, would get an opprtunity ahead of Jadeja. However, that is probably only until Harbhajan returns, yet he has everything to fight for in this series.

Sri Lanka are faced with more questions. They have won their last three series yet struggled to beat Zimbabwe and Bangladesh before they comprehensively knocked out Pakistan, who have not played much cricket in the last 12 months.

Much of their recent success has come through their bowling. Against Pakistan, the unsung heroes Nuwan Kulasekara and Thilan Thushara combined so well with the new ball that they nearly upstaged Mendis and Muttiah Muralitharan and have clearly overshadowed Dilhara Fernando and Farveez Maharoof. The battle lies between the erratic, frequently injured Fernando and Maharoof, who strives for the nagging accuracy of a Glenn McGrath. And with Lasith Malinga slated to return soon, the bowling resources look pretty good.

Does this, then, mean the end of the ODI road for Chaminda Vaas? Jayawardene hinted gently at that today. "There are five bowlers ahead of Vaasy at the moment. Probably that's the reason why he's not playing. It's a tough one for Vaasy. Thilan Thushara has come up the ranks; he's been most impressive in the last six months or one year where he has picked up pace and accuracy. Dilhara is bowling well but he still can't find a place in the side and Maharoof has been consistent as always so there are lots of bowlers ahead of Vaasy at the moment."

It's the batting, though, that is a worry. Tillakaratne Dilshan did make a tremendous impression as an opener in Pakistan but only time will tell whether he is the finished article. "Dilshan is a very versatile player," Jayawardene said. "He can fit anywhere in the batting line-up. We tried him a couple of times [as opener] in the past, but this is the first time he has been so consistent."

The middle order is yet to settle down. Kumar Sangakkara has, of late, allowed the burden of an off-colour batting line-up inhibit his style but no one can accuse of him of being unaware of his role. Jayawardene is slogging hard in the nets, hoping for some change in his miserable form. He's too good to remain down for long but till he's on song the pressure is squarely on the next two - Chamara Kapugedera and Thilina Kandamby. Kapugedera is a work in progress, though he's seen as a future star by the Sri Lankan think-tank and they are willing to stick with him for a while. Kandamby has taken the final batting spot after Chamara Silva failed to grab his opportunities.

This is a hastily arranged tour but, for some players on both sides, the next five matches could mean far more than five ODI results.

Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo