Wobbly India take on in-form Lankans

Cricket : Tri-series: Visitors need to improve drastically to beat hosts


TRUMP CARD: Muttiah Muralitharan will be a huge threat to India in the tri-series final. AFP

TRUMP CARD: Muttiah Muralitharan will be a huge threat to India in the tri-series final. AFPTheir fielding was mediocre, the bowling pedestrian and the batting -- save for Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar -- was in a shambles. Come to think of it, the batting looked wobbly even during their match against New Zealand under admittedly difficult conditions. But so insignificant was the total they were chasing that their six-wicket victory appeared a commanding one.

However, up against a daunting target against Sri Lanka, the batsmen were found wanting. It wasn’t an easy task to scale down 300-plus on a deteriorating pitch, but the manner of defeat, their biggest loss in Sri Lanka in terms of runs, left a lot to be desired.
The pitches at the Premadasa stadium have been the bane of teams that have lost the toss. Only New Zealand somehow contrived to lose the game against India after winning the toss. Sri Lanka, lucky with the spin of coin so far, have made the most of their fortune, winning both their matches. Against this backdrop, the toss assumes greater importance when the two face-off in Monday’s title clash.

To be fair to the Indians, it was tough on them to play back-to-back matches in energy-sapping conditions. But being the most sought after cricketing nation, their schedule is going to be unforgiving. Optional nets have been the feature of Team India in recent times, but on this trip, the entire team had two intense practice sessions prior to their first match.

Understandably, therefore, barring a struggling Yuvraj Singh, the rest of the XI that featured in the previous two matches stayed put in the hotel on the eve of the final.    

The Punjab batsman, who batted at length in the nets on Sunday, has found the going tough thus far. Uncomfortable against Daniel Vettori’s left-arm spin, Yuvraj tried to hit his way out of trouble only to miscue the shot. He was all at sea in the second match against Lasith Malinga, constantly fishing at the balls outside the off-stump and eventually nicking one.

Tendulkar’s form has been encouraging, but Dinesh Kaarthick needs to buckle down at the top of the order before the cries for his ouster get even shriller. After the opening match blues, Dravid looked the part in the second match, emerging as highest scorer for India. Suresh Raina and Dhoni were in their elements against the Kiwis and the duo will have to be on top of their form once again.  All three pacemen, Ashish Nehra, Ishant Sharma and RP Singh, had a forgettable Saturday, only Harbhajan Singh showing a certain degree of control. It is, however, unlikely that the team management will effect any changes to the combination. Sri Lanka have looked by far the best side in the competition, helped in no small measure by the toss going their way.

The hosts have had men rising to the occasion whenever the chips have been down. If it was Thilan Samaraweera who did the job for them against New Zealand, they found an unlikely hero in Thilina Kandamby after Sanath Jayasuriya, out-of-form until Saturday’s match, had set the base against India.

Promising all-rounder Angelo Mathews has been a revelation. His half-century proved crucial against the Kiwis, while his six-wicket burst on Saturday destroyed the Indian batting. With Muttiah Muralitharan declared completely fit, it remains to be seen if Sri Lanka will induct the off-spinner for the final or go with the winning combination.

Teams (from):

India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Sachin Tendulkar, Dinesh Kaarthick, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Praveen Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Ashish Nehra, RP Singh, Amit Mishra, Virat Kohli, Abhishek Nayar.

Sri Lanka: Kumar Sangakkara (capt), Tillakaratne Dilshan, Sanath Jayasuriya, Mahela Jayawardene, Thilan Samaraweera, Upul Tharanga, Thilina Kandamby, Chamara Kapugedera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga, Muttiah Muralitharan, Malinga Bandara, Angelo Mathews, Ajantha Mendis, Dammika Prasad, Thilan Thushara.

Umpires:

Asoka de Silva and Billy Doctrove (West Indies). Third umpire: Gamini Silva. Match referee: Chris Broad (England).

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