Red-hot India take on Sri Lanka in World Cup battle of unequals
Mumbai: Twelve years on from that dream April 2011 night when a country of billions landed in a frenzy of delight, India take on Sri Lanka in another World Cup clash here on Thursday, albeit one that is poles apart from being termed an encore.
If that World Cup final was truly a battle of titans in every sense, the impending contest is more or less a battle of the unequals. India have hitherto marched on immaculately in pursuit of a third title and Sri Lanka have lost more than what they have won.
Unbeaten in six straight games and largely unchallenged for longer spans, India have displayed traits of being a champion side which has the knack of staging remarkable fightbacks.
India’s confidence is irrefutably high but greater is their self-belief and trust on skills witnessed in the mini-storm created by Australia in Chennai when reduced to 2/3 or when England limited them to a modest 229/9 in Lucknow.
The doggedness to keep striking England until the defending champions were disintegrated was not only another display of their potential, but also a sign that India’s opponents must raise the performance bar significantly higher when it comes to facing Rohit Sharma’s team in this World Cup.
Coming into fray as a forced selection with India looking to answer Hardik Pandya’s absence by creating balance’, Mohammed Shami has only provided the happiest of selection headaches with nine wickets including a fifer in only two appearances.
But the think tank led by captain Rohit and coach Rahul Dravid knows Special Shami’ must be preserved for greater battles ahead for India would still need Jasprit Bumrah fresh and firing to steer through remaining challenges in the league stage.
There is no news on Pandya’s return yet, but going into this game there would be lingering concerns on how India’s young guns would go.
Both Shubman Gill and Shreyas Iyer came into the World Cup with consistent performances in the one-day format, but are yet to make a strong dent on the tournament.
Gill missed two games at the start and has only one fifty to show since he returned. He has been guilty of getting out to what is termed soft dismissals’ and the young batter would know the stage is set for him to get cracking once again.
At 1,334 runs (24 matches, 5x100s, 6x50s, avg 63.52), Gill is still a considerable distance (560 runs) behind the legendary Sachin Tendulkar in terms of getting most ODI runs in a year.
With his frailties against the short ball once again becoming opposition’s weapon against him, Iyer too will be in need of a big knock. He has only one fifty to show from six outings so far.
Iyer’s unbeaten 53 came in the chase against Pakistan when the opposition was down and out but the right-handed batter has also fallen on occasions where there were opportunities to bat big and finish games.
There will be extra motivation to put that all behind when Iyer walks out at the Wankhede Stadium, playing a World Cup game on his home ground.
For that matter, the feeling would be ditto for the local boys Rohit, Suryakumar Yadav and Shardul Thakur.
India’s leading run-scorer with 398 runs at 66.33 with one century and two fifties in the World Cup, Rohit will want to make more memories with the bat in front of his raucous and passionate home crowd.
Sri Lanka are no pushovers but they have faltered more often than not in this World Cup after an superlative show in the qualification round.
Injuries and unavailability of key players have also ravaged the team from the island nation, but its young brigade should make the most of facing a high quality opponent in its pomp.
Sadeera Samarawickrama has had a fine run with 331 runs in six games, hitting one century and a fifty in the process to be Sri Lanka’s leading run-scorer.
Pathum Nissanka has also done well for becoming only the second batter after Gill to score more than a thousand ODI runs this year. His four consecutive fifties in the World Cup makes him one to watch out for while his tally now stands at 1,108 runs in 26 matches at 48.17 with two centuries and nine fifties.
But captain Kusal Mendis with his artistry with the bat remains Sri Lanka’s best batter even though the venerable Angelo Mathews is back and has already put in a match-winning performance.
Sri Lanka’s bowlers have largely done a fair job given they have missed the presence of more experienced bowlers, but given their resources they will hope to put up a fight against the rampant Indian batters in perfect batting conditions.