By Gokul Gopal
The one-sided nature of the India-Sri Lanka contests, which resulted in the hosts being clean swept in the Test series, extended into the first ODI as Virat Kohli's side registered a record victory in Dambulla, chasing down 217 with more than 20 overs to spare. The stage now shifts to Pallekele, the same venue where India registered their first overseas Test whitewash, for the second and the third ODIs, and going by how the series has progressed so far another huge Indian victory would only be a fair prediction.
It wasn't that Sri Lanka did not show any fight in the first ODI. Just that they couldn't capitalise on a good start and threw their wickets away causing much anger among the fans who resorted to protesting and shouting slogans against the team soon after the game. At 139 for 1, Sri Lanka had reached a solid position before crashing to 216 all out. Four out of the top five managed to cross 30 but only Niroshan Dickwella managed a half-century while the rest failed to convert their promising starts. Their bowling too was no match for India's batting might as the visitors raced to the target, registering a nine wicket victory.
Shikhar Dhawan, who scored an unbeaten 132, summed it up by saying that Sri Lanka is a young side going through a transitional phase. However, this phase has been going on for a long time now and what isn't also helping the team is that the selectors are trigger-happy. "For me, if we were left alone and you could work with this group of players, you could get some stability and consistency over a period of six months," said interim head coach Nic Pothas, urging the selectors to show some patience. But the lack of it has had a cascading effect on the team, whose performances only seems to be getting worse.
Batting, fielding, catching, bowling - nothing has gone right for the Sri Lankans in this series, with a fair share of injuries further depleting the resources. The hosts also haven't been helped by the fact that Lasith Malinga, their pace spearhead over the years, has been a pale shadow of his former self. Having not seen any ODI action since November 2015, Malinga returned to the squad for the ICC Champions Trophy. In the nine games that he has played since June 2017, Malinga has picked up seven wickets while going at close to six an over with a bowling average of 61.71. The 33-year-old might be on borrowed time and unless he can justify his place in the team, Sri Lanka might have to look at different options.
Meanwhile, everything has been rosy in the Indian camp ever since they set foot in Sri Lanka. One dominating performance after another, contributions coming in from all corners, emphasis on fitness and a proposed rotation policy keeping everyone on their toes, the Indian team is in a happy place at the moment. There are, however, a few concerns which might have been masked by their towering performance in the last game. The quick bowlers erred on either side of the wicket and were finding it difficult to hit the right lengths, thus contributing a major share of the 10 wides that were bowled in the first ODI. Bowling coach Bharat Arun stressed on the importance of assessing the conditions beforehand and adapting to it. Whether the practice sessions leading up to the game have given them a fair idea remains to be seen.
The other immediate issue that India needs to address is the running between the wickets. Rohit Sharma did not appear too agile in the first game and was involved in a few mix-ups with Dhawan. Clearer calling and better judgement are imperative and the onus is on Rohit as well as Dhawan to figure out what works for them best. These apart, India pretty much have covered all bases and will head into the game with their confidence meter running in surplus.
When: Sri Lanka vs India, 2nd ODI - Thursday, August 24 at 2:30 PM Local Time
Where: Pallekele International Cricket Stadium
What to expect: Totals in excess of 300 have been limited in Pallekele, only three in 18 completed matches here, as the pitch offers a good balance between bat and ball. The last time India played at this venue was in August 2012 when they defended a total of 294. It is expected to be cloudy for the entire duration of the game with a high of 30 degree Celsius.
Sri Lanka: Thisara Perera, Lakshan Sandakan and Wanidu Hasaranga failed to impress in the last game and they are likely to be out of the eleven for the second ODI. Milinda Siriwardana, Malinda Pushpakumara and Dushmantha Chameera are the ones likely to replace them.
Probable XI: Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Danushka Gunathilaka, Kusal Mendis, Upul Tharanga (c), Angelo Mathews, Chamara Kapugedara, Milinda Siriwardana, Malinda Pushpakumara, Dushmantha Chameera, Lasith Malinga, Vishwa Fernando
India: Unless the nature of the wicket forces a change in combination or a late injury, the visitors are likely to stick to the same eleven that took the field at Dambulla.
Probable XI: Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli (c), Lokesh Rahul, MS Dhoni (wk), Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal
Did you know?
- Rohit Sharma's last seven outings in ODIs in Sri Lanka read 5, 5, 0, 0, 4, 4 and 4. He is one single-figure dismissal away from breaking Sanath Jayasuriya's record of most such dismissals in succession.
- Chamara Kapugedara has scored 162 runs from his last 15 ODI innings at 11.57, with a highest of 62. The other 14 innings have fetched him a mere 100 runs.
- MS Dhoni is one short of equalling Kumar Sangakkara's world record of 99 stumpings in ODIs. Dhoni has so far affected 98 stumpings and has taken 278 catches behind the wickets.
What they said:
"In 2014, India were in the same situation when you got new players and new support staff. It takes time for everyone to get used to each other. I don't know what the time-frames are but all I know is that if we keep doing what we are doing at the moment you'll see results pretty soon" - Nic Pothas, Sri Lanka coach, remains optimistic about his team's chances.
"If the wicket is similar to Dambulla I don't see any reason to change the team just after one game. It was a perfect game for us because we came back into the game beautifully, we did well with the bat and were really sharp in the field. Very happy with how it went in the first game" - Virat Kohli, India captain, hints at an unchanged line-up.
India (From): Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli(c), Lokesh Rahul, MS Dhoni(w), Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal, Manish Pandey, Ajinkya Rahane, Shardul Thakur, Kuldeep Yadav
Sri Lanka (From): Niroshan Dickwella(w), Danushka Gunathilaka, Kusal Mendis, Upul Tharanga(c), Angelo Mathews, Chamara Kapugedera, Wanidu Hasaranga, Thisara Perera, Lakshan Sandakan, Lasith Malinga, Vishwa Fernando, Milinda Siriwardana, Malinda Pushpakumara, Akila Dananjaya, Dushmantha Chameera