Confident India look to continue winning ways

Kulkarni may replace injured Aaron

Confident India look to continue winning ways

Sri Lanka had landed in India with an escape clause that if they didn’t measure up to the Indian challenge, then you can blame it on a combination of factors — rustiness, unpreparedness, lack of experience, especially in the bowling department.

 One match into the five-match one-day international series, the familiar story appears to be unfolding. In the best of times, Lanka have struggled to overcome India in their conditions and these are not definitely the best of times for them. 

The team still heavily depends on the senior batting trio of Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan while their bowling has been considerably weakened in the absence of paceman Lasith Malinga and left-arm spinner Rangana Herath.

 Going into the second match here on Thursday, Angelo Mathews has an unenviable task of motivating his largely inexperienced side after a huge defeat in the first match that can have a debilitating effect on a young outfit in one of the toughest conditions to play cricket. On the other hand, India, despite injury woes to several of their first-choice bowlers and the absence of regular skipper MS Dhoni, are brimming with confidence. 

It was a textbook-like performance in the opening match where the script progressed according to old-school of cricket -- openers biding their time, accelerating in the middle and pacemen bowling attacking lines to stifle the batsmen. 

Strategically, too, India were served better when stand-in skipper Virat Kohli instructed a well-set Ajinkya Rahane and Shikhar Dhawan to take the batting Power Play from overs 24-28, a move that yielded a handsome 62 runs.   

 The injury-forced absence of Varun Aaron, who clocked 152kph in Cuttack, may have taken some sting out of the pace group but Kohli, who turned 26 on Wednesday, hopes Mumbai paceman Dhawal Kulkarni, a possible replacement, will be as effective.

 Though Kohli expectedly refused to confirm anything on team combination, local boy Axar Patel is likely to be given an extended run. The left-arm spinner flickered brightly with the bat and was quite effective with the ball as well. Along with R Ashwin, the 20-year-old will form the spin unit on a surface that, unlike in several other Indian venues, has been less harsh on bowlers.      
    This is also one of those rare grounds in India where seamers have outperformed spinners and the unusual presence of more-than-a-tinge of grass might excite pacemen from both camps.

 The Sardar Patel stadium, the venue of the second ODI, also has a little inspirational nugget to it for Sri Lanka. It was exactly nine years ago -- Nov 6, 2005 – that Lanka defeated India with Tillakaratne Dilshan playing a stellar role with the bat. Since that defeat, the hosts have managed just one win, against Australia in the 2011 World Cup quarterfinal, in the subsequent five visits here.

 But given the Lankans’ state of mind at this point in time, they need more than just a little piece of history going their way.

India don’t have a batsman at this stage who is struggling for form. Though they seemed to have settled for a total less than they promised to achieve at one point in the first match, a collapse is often inevitable in a cricket match after a long partnership. Lanka had better conditions to bowl and bat in the previous match but they fluffed it up both times.

 While the bowlers, though they can point to two dropped catches of Indian openers, failed to provide early breakthroughs, the batsmen were diffident, a suicidal approach in a high chase. The visitors do have enough wherewithal and experience in their ranks to bring a turnaround in their fortunes but they need to play positive cricket.  

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