Sri Lanka are on Indian soil currently, to play a five-match ODI series, starting on November 2, Sunday. This is a make-shift series arranged by Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), after the sudden pull out of the West Indies team midway from their India tour. The Indian board then requested the Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) to send its team for a short series, to which the SLC agreed immediately. Now, both teams are in Cuttack, to play the first ODI at the Barabati Stadium.
The last time Sri Lanka toured India for a bilateral series was in 2009 and the last time Sri Lanka played India in India was in the 2011 World Cup final, which India won comfortably.
The hosts will miss the services of their regular captain, MS Dhoni, who has been rested for the three ODIs. Meanwhile, it is a great opportunity for Virat Kohli to show his captaincy skills. India have been in fine form in the ODI format of late, with three consecutive series wins against Bangladesh, England and West Indies respectively. Although Rohit Sharma hit a sparkling hundred against India ‘A’, he couldn’t prove his fitness, after recovering from injury, when the selectors picked the squad for the first three ODIs.
Kohli’s return to form has come at the right time for him and remember, Kohli averages over 50 against Sri Lanka with 5 hundreds and 8 fifties to his name. Suresh Raina, who will be playing his 200th ODI, has been batting exceptionally well and is looking in great touch. However, India’s concern with the batting line-up is right at the top. Opener, Shikhar Dhawan, is hot and cold and it is high time that he lifts his game, before the World Cup 2015.
Meanwhile, with Dhoni clearly expressing concerns about India’s fast bowling options for the 2015 World Cup during the West Indies series, it is a body blow that Shami Ahmed, the highest wicket-taker in ODIs in 2014, has been ruled of the entire series due to an injury. Dhawal Kulkarni takes his place, while Varun Aaron too gets a chance as original spearhead, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, has been rested.
The Sri Lankan cricket team was in the middle of a six-week fitness program, ahead of their home series against England, when the sudden announcement of this short series was made. This meant that they had to leave their programme midway and prepare for the India tour. Senior pro, Kumar Sangakkara, had openly admitted that this was a hastily arranged series. Captain Angelo Mathews then made it clear that his side was willing to come to India, but stressed that they would have liked to have enough time to prepare to play a side like India.
The Islanders are without the injured Lasith Malinga, their key man with the ball. To make matters worse, they lost their warm-up match badly to India ‘A’ a few days ago, despite fielding a full strength squad. In the batting department, the onus is again on experienced campaigners, Mahela Jayawardene and Sangakkara. Mathews has been in good form this year, while Upul Tharanga made some valuable runs in the warm-up game. Quite contrastingly, the bowling attack, spearheaded by Nuwan Kulasekara, looks quite inexperienced. Apart from Thisara Perera, and Mathews, no one has played more than 30 ODIs.
Pitch and conditions:
The square at the Barabati Stadium has not quite yielded big scores. The run-scoring has been quite tough due to its slow nature. Although the last ODI scheduled here, India v Australia, October 26, 2013, was washed off due to rain, the weather for tomorrow is quite clear.
“The results of such matches don’t matter a lot to visiting sides as much as they matter to the home teams. They are a quality side. They have crowned themselves as world champions in one format (T20) of the game,” coach Sanjay Bangar after Sri Lanka’s loss in the warm-up match.
“If some of the other players in our batting line-up except the two senior players (Jayawardene, Sangakkara) and the captain (Mathews) can take up the burden, we will do better,” Sri Lanka coach Marvan Atapattu.