Big picture – India might rotate players
Two weeks ago in Bengaluru, India’s Asia Cup-bound squad had exhaustive fitness tests to check their levels of preparedness for the cricket coming up over the next three months.
On Tuesday, those fitness levels will be put to test as India return to the R Premadasa Stadium a little over 12 hours after beating Pakistan in a game that was played over two days because of rain. When they won, they won by a record 228 runs, which has vaulted their net run-rate into orbit, and another win will take them through to Sunday’s final.
Coming into the tournament, India had several questions to answer.
Can Ishan Kishan bat in the middle order if required? He answered it quite emphatically, hitting an 82-ball 81 against Pakistan in Pallekele to open the tournament.
Sure, Jasprit Bumrah eased in nicely against Ireland, but can he unleash beast mode against quality batting line-ups? On Monday, he answered that by taking out Imam-ul-Haq in a fiery opening spell that set up India’s magnificent defence.
How match-ready is KL Rahul? He hadn’t been keeping wickets until a couple of days prior to the game against Pakistan. And can he go through the rigours in such testing conditions upon his return after being out of action since early May?
Not meant to play initially – he was drafted in only after Shreyas Iyer had to go out following back spasms just minutes before the toss against Pakistan – Rahul marked his comeback with a stunning run-a-ball century (he ended with 111 not out in 106 balls) and put up 223 in an unbroken stand with Virat Kohli for the third wicket.
That wasn’t it. He kept for all but the first few overs of Pakistan’s innings to dismiss any concerns there may have been.
On Tuesday, India may want to try and answer a couple more questions. How about giving Suryakumar Yadav some action? Is Iyer fit enough to slot back in? Can India look to rest one or more of their frontline fast bowlers and give Mohammed Shami and Prasidh Krishna some game time?
Sri Lanka have had a couple of days off to rest and recuperate following their hard-fought win over Bangladesh. They uncorked a gem in Sadeera Samarawickrama, who after years of failing to build on his early promise showed signs of maturity in a clutch knock.
Kusal Mendis provided the calmness in the batting, and the bowlers, led by Maheesh Theekshana and Matheesha Pathirana, lent a touch of magic in the face of a mounting challenge from Bangladesh’s middle order. Dasun Shanaka, who has increasingly been facing the kind of pressure Daren Sammy faced as captain when it came to proving his utility and worth, contributed superbly with the ball.
It wasn’t quite a complete performance against Bangladesh, but the bowlers held firm at different times under pressure to bail the side out. On Tuesday, Sri Lanka face a rampant batting line-up that will give them more cues on where they stand as a bowling group with bigger battles coming up.
Not to forget, Sri Lanka are now on a streak of 13 men’s ODI wins in a row, second only to Australia’s 21 in 2003… can they take it to 14?
Sri Lanka WWWWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
In March 2021, around the time he was in line for the ODI vice-captaincy, Iyer was out for six months with a shoulder injury. By the time he returned, he had not just lost that opportunity but also his IPL captaincy to Rishabh Pant at Delhi Capitals. Earlier this year, a back injury that needed surgery put his World Cup dreams in doubt. But he recovered within six months. But one game in, he has been laid low again, this time by back spasms. Is he ready? Can he pull up well and prove his fitness in a proper match environment?
Ever since he announced himself with a five-for against Australia at the Under-19 World Cup last year, left-arm-spinner Dunith Wellalage has been touted to do big things as an allrounder. Only 12 ODIs old, Wellalage has already impressed many with his calmness and control. That Sri Lanka find themselves in the Super Four is partly due to his all-round efforts – 33 not out and 2 for 36, including the wicket of Hashmatullah Shahidi in a tense finish – against Afghanistan. Tuesday will be an opportunity to build on his exciting initiation.
India may want to give a chance to some of their reserves. This could bring Suryakumar and Shami into the mix. It isn’t clear yet if Iyer will be fit to return. Sri Lanka may not want to fix something that isn’t broken given they are already without several first-choice bowlers following injuries.
India (probable XI): 1 Rohit Sharma (capt), 2 Shubman Gill, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 KL Rahul (wk), 5 Suryakumar Yadav/Ishan Kishan, 6 Hardik Pandya, 7 Ravindra Jadeja/Axar Patel, 8 Shardul Thakur, 9 Mohammed Shami, 10 Prasidh Krishna, 11 Mohammed Siraj
Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Pathum Nissanka, 2 Dimuth Karunaratne, 3 Kusal Mendis (wk), 4 Sadeera Samarawickrama, 5 Charith Asalanka, 6 Dhananjaya de Silva, 7 Dasun Shanaka (capt), 8 Dunith Wellalage, 9 Maheesh Theekshana, 10 Kasun Rajitha, 11 Matheesha Pathirana
Pitch and conditions
It is expected to remain sultry, with humidity likely to be a massive factor. Evening showers are forecast, although if there’s one thing we have found out over the past week, it’s futile trying to predict weather patterns. It isn’t clear yet if a fresh surface will be used for this match. Either way, given the pitch will be fully covered until about noon – rain or no rain – there could be some moisture for the fast bowlers to try and exploit first up, before conditions spice up for them under lights.
Stats and trivia