Opportunity for Indians to seize the top spot

Opportunity for Indians to seize the top spot

Dhonis men to battle Sri Lanka and New Zealand in tri-series

At least on the evidence of the two previous series, they have a lot to celebrate. Though Anil Kumble’s Test side was humbled 1-2 last year, Dhoni’s team clinched the five-match one-day series 3-2, and then followed it up with a 3-1 series triumph early this year. Thanks to Pathan brothers Irfan and Yusuf, India also pulled off a stunning win in the one-off Twenty20 match from a near-hopeless position.

Coming off a six-week break following their 2-1 series win over the West Indies in June following their disastrous World T20 campaign in England, India will be looking to hit the straps straight away in the tri-series beginning on Tuesday, what with the Champions Trophy starting later this month in South Africa.

Besides the lure of the coveted trophy, Dhoni’s men will also have another incentive to do well in the September 8-14 event. Perched currently at No 2 position in the ICC one-day rankings behind South Africa, a title victory here with an all-win record will catapult the Indians to the top position for the first time since the rankings were introduced by the International Cricket Council in October 2002.

The tri-series also marks the return of Rahul Dravid to the one-day fold after nearly two years and obviously, a lot of focus will be on the stylish right-hander. The Karnataka stalwart, who looked as solid as ever in the nets during the four-day preparatory camp in Bangalore late last month, warmed-up for the challenge with a couple of well-crafted centuries in the BCCI Corporate Trophy. Come to think of it, the inaugural 50-over tournament should have also helped most of the other Sri Lanka-bound players shrug off their rust following a rare lengthy break.           

The other two teams in the fray, hosts Lanka and New Zealand, however, have been in the thick of action for some time now. After the lashing in the two-match Test series at the hands of Kumar Sangakkara’s side, the Kiwis bounced back in style by winning both Twenty20 matches against this year’s World T20 finalists, thereby underlining their adeptness in the latest version of the game.

“It was a huge confidence booster,” said New Zealand vice-captain Brendon McCullum on Sunday about the T20 wins. “We were disappointed with the Test matches and the T20 wins have brought us back.”

By extension Daniel Vettori’s men, who on Sunday lost a 50-over game against a Lanka ‘A’ side formed mostly of current national stars, can be expected to pose a big challenge to the two sub-continental sides. While their skills and temperament are a bit suspect in the longer version, the presence of a number of utility players will stand the Kiwis in good stead when it comes to abridged formats.

McCullum, standing in for Vettori who took the day off, sounded disappointed with Sunday’s defeat. “It’s a bit upsetting, but our preparations for the one-dayers have been good and the team is shaping up well. Hopefully, we will be able to put them into practice,” he noted.

On the other hand, the Lankans’ ride in the 50-over game has been topsy-turvy in the last year or so. Two notable series wins over Pakistan – both at home and away – have been sandwiched by defeats to India, the last loss coinciding with the exit of Mahela Jayawardene as the captain. As such, Jayawardene’s good friend and successor Sangakkara would be keen to set the record straight in the triangular series.