Chance to iron out issues

IN A SPOT: Under fire for his slow batting, MS Dhoni will be keen to prove his critics wrong when India take on Sri Lanka on Saturday. REUTERS

The penultimate match of the league stage of the World Cup may seem an inconsequential contest with India already in the semifinal and Sri Lanka heading home the next day, but there’s still a lot riding on this game for both the former champions. Of course, much depends on the final game between Australia and South Africa the same day later insofar as India are concerned.

With 13 points from eight games, India have a chance of finishing on top of the table provided they beat Sri Lanka here on Saturday, which is quite possible, and South Africa tame Australia, which is a tall task at this moment. In the unlikely event of Australia’s loss, India will finish on top of the heap with 15 points and potentially avoid them in the semifinals. Having lost to India in the league phase, Australia, too, wouldn’t want to face Virat Kohli and company.

Apart from the first task of winning the match, India would be keen to iron out some concerns which can be easily exploited by a superior team. One of them is obviously the unsettled middle-order. While the progressively slowing nature of the pitches and the white balls going softer appear to be the reasons behind lack of flourish towards the back end of the innings -- as was witnessed in the matches against England and Bangladesh -- India will have to find a way of finishing their innings better.

There is a possibility that some of the middle-order batsmen would get a longer hit on Saturday. Obviously, there will be a lot of focus when M S Dhoni comes on to bat. With the former skipper slowing up the tempo, he has come under criticism – some of it is justified and the other coming without the understanding of the context.

The recovery by Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who had sustained a tight left hamstring, is good news for India as the paceman proved to be an effective addition against Bangladesh but Mohammad Shami has shockingly gone off the boil after a fiery start to his campaign. While he has been amongst a lot of wickets (14 from just four matches), his economy has gone up to 5.48 runs per over which was just 3.47 after the first two matches. Both against England and Bangladesh Shami has leaked runs in his return spells, and it has fallen on Jasprit Bumrah to make up for his profligacy as well.  

The lack of sixth-bowling option, with Kedar Jadhav either not playing or not being used when in 11, India have little breathing space. They have to hope that all their five front-line bowlers, including Hardik Pandya, are right on the money every single time. While they may have gotten away against a relatively easy Bangladesh, those in the semifinals aren’t going to be as lenient. If they are playing with three seamers, Pandya and one of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav, they would be better served to have Ravindra Jadeja instead of a batsman which means Dinesh Karthik will have to sit out again after just one hit.

It’s a bit harsh on the right-hander, but if that’s what the need of the hour is then so be it. Apart from his left-arm spin bowling and fielding, Jadeja will also bolster the lower-order batting which is at this moment is a bit too long for India’s comfort.     

Their opponents, Sri Lanka have shown stomach for a fight after a disappointing start. They have shocked England and stopped the dangerous West Indies in their tracks. In a transition period, the islanders can take home some positives with a handful of batsmen showcasing their talent on the biggest stage. Veteran paceman Lasith Malinga seems to have rediscovered his zing and India can expect a serious challenge from the Dimuth Karunaratne-led side as they look to finish their campaign on high.

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