As part of our ‘Renault Duster Presents the Unstoppable Indians’ special, we present the Indian players to look out for during the five-match ODI series between Sri Lanka and India.
Going into the first ODI in Hambantota, Virender Sehwag’s previous five in 2012 had fetched him scores of 10, 20, 0, 5 and 30. His Test match returns were no better; in Australia he scored 198 runs at 24.75 from four games. Sehwag performed well in IPL 5, scoring 495 runs at an astonishing strike-rate of 161.23. He cracked a record five half-centuries in a row and finished as the fifth-highest scorer. But his real test was to perform in international matches.
In his first ODI after more than four months, Sehwag was meticulous in his shot selection and exhibited remarkable constrain during his 96 against Sri Lanka. Early in the innings he found it difficult to middle the ball and was even given a life on 0 when Tillakratne Dilshan dropped a simple catch at point. After that Sehwag became more circumspect; his first five runs took 18 balls.
But he grew confident as he played more balls and started pinching singles with ease. He remained in control of the situation and didn't try to hit every ball out of the park. Sehwag is known to score majority of his runs from boundaries but on Saturday, he surprisingly ran hard between the wickets for as many as 40 singles and seven doubles. Though he hit just 10 boundaries in his innings, his 96 runs came off 97 balls.
That innings has set the series up well – if Sehwag gets going on a regular basis, India will be the dominant team.
In 2012, the 23-year-old Virat Kohli has been phenomenal. In just 12 matches he has amassed 836 runs at 76.00, with four centuries and three half-centuries. His last five innings have been 133*, 108, 66, 183, 106; against Sri Lanka, he has now scored four 50-plus innings in a row – three of which have been centuries. He is the third-highest run-getter in 2012 behind Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan, who have both played 25 matches compared to Kohli’s 12. Nobody has more hundreds than Kohli this year either.
What is also impressive about Kohli is the manner in which he scored his runs. He hasn’t been unconventional like Watson, AB de Villiers or Brendon McCullum have; instead, he has stuck to conventional shots, mostly presenting a full face of the bat to the ball. His driving down the ground and through the offside has been pleasing for its authenticity, and Kohli is one of the best pullers in the Indian team today. The shot he has made his own is the whiplash-flick through and over midwicket, a shot hit with incredible bat-speed but minimal fuss and not packed with power. He has also showed good skill against spin, most always using his feet to come forward and play the ball down the ground.
If Kohli continues such form throughout the year, the Indian team’s graph could head upwards too.
India’s left-hand opener has an enviable batting average against Sri Lanka, with 1413 runs at 48.72 from 32 innings. Since he marked his first match against them with a century in November 2005, Gambhir has been a thorn in Sri Lanka’s side – five of his ten ODI centuries have come against them including his joint highest scores of 150 and 150*.
However, on Sri Lankan soil Gambhir has not been as successful. His average is just 28.25, with one century and one fifty in 12 innings, so that is something he would be looking to address.
Arguably the best player of spin in the India, Gambhir will have to be at his twinkle-toed best to rectify his poor record in Sri Lanka.
Before he scored a brisk 50 against Sri Lanka in the series opener, Suresh Raina had average 34.37 in ODIs this year, a number inflated by three unbeaten innings. He had scored just one fifty, against Bangladesh.
But in Hambantota, Raina displayed shots that were the Raina of old, when he was in form and timed the ball sweetly. Though he had a nervous start – a very convincing lbw shout from Angelo Mathews was turned down – Raina grew in confidence with some trademark drives down the ground and through the offside.
He started by running hard between the wickets and then hit his first boundary after he had eased to 21 off 27 balls – a wide full toss from Lasith Malinga was steered away for four. Three balls later he played a sumptuous drive through extra cover off the same bowler that screeched into the boundary before any fielder could stop it.
The first six of the game came off Raina’s bat too, as he picked Malinga’s slower ball and heaved it over long-on. His cameo fifty took 44 balls and helped India finish strongly after a platform had been set.
Raina’s tour has begun well; now he must continue in this vein to keep his place.
India’s most experienced fast bowler hasn’t had the best of years. Nearing 34, Zaheer will have to address which his career at the end of the season and see which format he should give up. Most likely it will be Test cricket, so he would be eyeing going into India’s home series against New Zealand in August with wickets under his belt.
Zaheer’s first international outing since February was a rusty affair, as he conceded 63 runs from his ten overs while taking one wicket in Hambantota. Perhaps this wasn’t a surprise considering how he hasn’t played for a while, but Zaheer will have to put in a good outing in Sri Lanka to get confidence for a busy season.
He has a good ODI record in Sri Lanka – 30 wickets from 22 matches at an average of 29.26. A five-wicket haul on Sri Lankan soil has alluded Zaheer, though, and what a wonderful thing it would be for him to notch that up in this tour.