It’s been a quixotic series in terms of performances from the two teams but, at 2-1 to India, the contest has reached a stage where Sri Lanka have to win at the Premadasa Stadium on Tuesday to keep it alive. There is no room for half-measures.
From going into the previous match at the same venue on Saturday as favorites after annihilating India in the second ODI, however, Sri Lanka are now the underdogs after allowing India become the first team to chase 250 or more at the Premadasa and losing the services of Kumar Sangakkara. The odds are stacked against them.
Sangakkara has been ruled out of the series with a fractured finger, and his absence leaves Sri Lanka without their second-highest run-getter of all time as well as first-choice wicketkeeper. Taking Sangakkara’s place behind the stumps will be Dinesh Chandimal – the selectors have not named a replacement ‘keeper – and Mahela Jayawardene should move up to No. 3 in the batting order. Lahiru Thirimanne will be the batsman drafted into the XI in Sangakkara’s absence. The other change is likely to be Isuru Udana making way for Nuwan Pradeep, after conceding 42 runs in six wicketless overs in the last match.
It's not everyday that Sri Lanka score 286 at home and end up losing, but that's what happened and now they are under the pump. Their bowling was tidy in spurts but the manner in which the bowlers allowed Suresh Raina and Irfan Pathan to add 92 for the sixth wicket was surprising, especially considering how sharp the medium-pacers had been in the second ODI. They cannot afford to be so sloppy with the series on the line.
Tuesday’s match is an opportunity for MS Dhoni to win his third limited-overs bilateral series in Sri Lanka – no other Indian captain has managed ever one victory– and start the new season off on a good note. But to achieve that he will need to get better performances from his bowlers at the death. In the first match in Hambantota the bowlers conceded 90 runs in the last nine overs and on Saturday they bled 97 from overs 41-50. On both occasions India needed their batsmen to overcome the bowlers’ generosity. On the once occasion the batsmen failed to put up a big score, India were steamrolled.
While there were positives in the efforts of Raina and Irfan in the previous match, India cannot be relying on efforts from No’s 6 and 7 to pull off big chases. They will expect runs from Virender Sehwag who after 96 in the first ODI has scored 15 and 3, while Rohit Sharma has surely played his last game of the series after recording his second duck in consecutive matches. In his place Manoj Tiwary should step into the middle order for his first game since December. The bowling should pick itself, with Zaheer Khan, Irfan and Ashok Dinda comprising the pace quotient followed by R Ashwin and Rahul Sharma as the spinners.
India have won their last two matches against Sri Lanka at the Premadasa and will be eying a hat-trick to extend an unbeaten bilateral series run on Sri Lankan soil that started under Dhoni in 2008.
Sri Lanka: 1 Upul Tharanga, 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Mahela Jayawardene (capt), 4 Dinesh Chandimal (wk), 5 Lahiru Thirimanne, 6 Angelo Mathews, 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Jeevan Mendis, 9 Lasith Malinga, 10 Rangana Herath, 11 Nuwan Pradeep
India: 1 Gautam Gambhir, 2 Virender Sehwag, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Manoj Tiwary, 5 Suresh Raina, 6 MS Dhoni (capt/wk), 7 Irfan Pathan, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Zaheer Khan, 10 Ashok Dinda, 11 Rahul Sharma