When India beat Sri Lanka soundly in the series opener there was reason to believe they had hit their straps, albeit in familiar conditions and against a team they have regularly bossed since 2008, after a poor last year and in their current season opener. But once the visitors were mercilessly drubbed by Sri Lanka in the second ODI, a familiar pattern of batting frailties and wafer-thin bowling has cropped up. Going into the third match of the series at Colombo’s R Premadasa Stadium, it is Sri Lanka who are the buoyant side and India the team which needs to address concerns and opportunities.
Sri Lanka’s nine-wicket win was fashioned by the deceptively dangerous medium pace of Thisara Perera, an affable allrounder who has made himself almost indispensable to the set-up. Thisara’s outstanding day started with the exceptional figures of 3-3-0-3, which ripped apart India’s top order to a point from which the visitors could not recover. After a stellar series against Pakistan, Perera is shaping up to be India’s biggest threat at the Premadasa.
Partnering Perera is Angelo Mathews, an almost like-for-like bowler who has a knack of picking up big wickets. With Nuwan Kulasekara ruled out of the series, Lasith Malinga going through an awkward season and Nuwan Pradeep only one ODI old, Perera and Mathews are shaping up as Sri Lanka’s bowling spearheads.
Sri Lanka’s captain, Mahela Jayawardene, will also be hoping to get into form at the ground at which he averages just 28.56 from 54 innings. Jayawardene isn’t having the best of years as a batsman since taking over the captaincy again – he averages 30.71 in ODIs – and a leading innings could help inspire him and the team.
India’s total of 138 on Tuesday was disappointing, obviously, and the team has to address the inconsistency of Suresh Raina and the zombie that is Rohit Sharma. In 2012, Rohit has played ten ODIs and averages 17.33. In this series he has made 5 and 0, both times playing onto his stumps. How long the Indian team management can put up with his madding irregularity remains to be seen, but in the bigger scheme of things any decision taken about the No. 4 spot could be huge.
Should Rohit be dumped for Manoj Tiwary, who has played only six matches since debuting in 2008, and the Bengal cashes in, it could shut the door on Rohit’s Test chances too.
India will also be sweating on Pragyan Ojha’s fitness. The left-arm spinner was hit by the ball during training in Colombo and looked to be in considerable pain. There are reports that Ojha’s injury is not that serious, and the team will hope he is fit. Should Ojha not be passed fit, India would have to draft in Ashok Dinda.
India have won 11 of 26 completed matches against Sri Lanka at the Premadasa, six since August 2008. The last time these two teams met at the venue, India won by 46 runs to lift the Compaq Cup in September 2009. Only three Indians remain from that match – Raina, Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni.
Sri Lanka: 1 Upul Tharanga, 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 4 Mahela Jayawardene (capt), 5 Dinesh Chandimal, 6 Lahiru Thirimanne, 7 Angelo Mathews, 8 Thisara Perera, 9 Lasith Malinga, 10 Rangana Herath, 11 Nuwan Pradeep.
India: 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Rohit Sharma/Manoj Tiwary, 5 Suresh Raina, 6 MS Dhoni (capt/wk), 7 Irfan Pathan, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Zaheer Khan, 10 Umesh Yadav, 11 Pragyan Ojha/Ashok Dinda.