Momentum firmly with India against SL

Momentum firmly with India against SL

Rain threat looms over big clash

Momentum firmly with India against SL

If the England-South Africa semifinal clash on Wednesday brought back memories of the last-four tie between the two sides from the 1992 World Cup, the match-up between India and Sri Lanka, who meet in the second semifinal of the Champions Trophy here on Thursday, brings to memory a couple of knockout clashes between the sides in the World Cup.

Of course, the World Cup final in 2011 is still fresh in memory but there was also this bitter encounter in 1996 that witnessed unsavoury scenes at the Eden Gardens. The spectator unrest at India’s inexplicable collapse after a majestic knock by Sachin Tendulkar forced match referee Clive Lloyd to award the match to Lanka and left Vinod Kambli, who was batting with Anil Kumble, inconsolable. The Arjuna Ranatunga-led side went on to win the title, beating Australia in the Lahore final.

Since that historic triumph, Lanka haven’t won outright any major ICC tournament despite making the finals on five occasions. They lost the 2007 and 2011 World Cup finals to Australia and India respectively and were beaten by Pakistan and West Indies in the 2009 and 2012 World T20 summit clashes. They were the joint winners of the Champions Trophy in 2002 along with India after the final was called off without a result due to rains in Colombo.   
As the two sides brace up in what promises to be a fair of sub-continental flair, Lanka, more than India, face a similar predicament. It has been unusually sunny for the last two days in the Wales capital but the forecast for Thursday isn’t encouraging.

With spells of light to sharp showers predicted all day and heavy rain in the afternoon, the tie is expected to be a curtailed affair if not a complete washout. An abandonment of the match is not certainly in the interests of the Lankans. In such an eventuality, the tournament’s playing conditions stipulate that the group winners – in this case Indians -- shall go through to the final.

Going by form and reputation, India will be strong favourites to make it to the title round. MS Dhoni and company are yet to taste a defeat on the trip and barring New Zealand and England, whom they haven’t played, they have beaten all comers and with some degree of comfort. India, in fact, walloped Lanka in a warm-up match in Birmingham while chasing a 300-plus run target. Even if one were to take recent head-to-head record, India have an overwhelming hold over their neighbours over the last two years, having won seven of the last 10 matches and with one ending in a tie. During the same period, India’s record in neutral venues is equally impressive – three wins, a tie and a lone loss in five meetings.   
Lanka, however, can take heart from the fact that they managed two wins in as many matches en route the semifinal after losing by a wicket in a low-scoring thriller against New Zealand. With a bit of assistance, Lankan attack showed what it is capable of while defending a paltry 138 total. Since that failure here, the Lankan batsmen have pulled off two meaty performances – one while chasing the target and the other while setting up a total.

Crucially for the islanders, their batting resurgence has been led by two of their longest-serving soldiers – Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. If Sangakkara’s unbeaten ton helped them scale down England’s mighty 293, Jayawardene’s undefeated 81 powered them to a winning total against Australia.

The two veterans will once again be crucial to Lanka’s fortunes in a big clash. India, though, seem to have covered all their bases. Their openers have been giving them the right starts, middle-order has made most of the sound base, bowlers have been disciplined and fielding has been the brightest feature of their play. Having enjoyed a near perfect campaign, India would be striving to maintain the same tempo for two more games.