India and Sri Lanka have been guilty of indulging each other in the past, they are the most frequently paired-up opponents in ODI cricket, but this one promises to be different.
For starters it has been seven months since they played against each other. More importantly they are playing in a tournament whose every match is crucial by the way of a difficult qualification for the final. Only two teams out of five progress, and there is no way any game can be taken lightly.
These two are young, fresh-looking teams. So gone out should be the contemptuous familiarity that used to fill up the air around an India-Sri Lanka contest.
For the first time in a long time, each team has established players whose main body of work hasn’t come against the other.
Shikhar Dhawan has played only four matches against Sri Lanka.
Dinesh Chandimal has played 14 out of 78 against India. There are new players coming through such as Chaturanga de Silva and Ambati Rayudu. In the likes, however, of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, and Kumar Sangakkara and Lasith Malinga, this is a mere renewal of vows. In a new setting, under new captains, just to add a little spice to the relationship.
A familiar script should run through this coming back: both the teams will be eager to chase. India love chasing, and dew is never too far in the evenings. Sri Lanka, who won their first match batting first against Pakistan, know India are different. They will want Indian bowlers, their weaker suit, to be in the middle when the key parts of the match are being played out.
(last five matches, most recent first)
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In the spotlight
News that R Ashwin has made significant changes to his action is hardly news at all. People can read through such sentences without pausing to even think because Ashwin keeps playing around with it so often; it could be a sign of either excessive confidence in his basic skill or excessive fidgetiness, but it fails to make people wait with bated breath to see what is in store.
In India’s first match of this Asia Cup, though, Ashwin stunned even the most jaded of Aswhin observers. For arguably the first time in his career, he was photographed wearing full sleeves on a cricket field. And he hadn’t just made significant changes to his action, he had got himself a completely new one. Wonder what is coming next.
One man who doesn’t need to change or fiddle with things is Lasith Malinga, who took five wickets in 14 balls to derail what looked like a routine chase. That, though, was Pakistan, who are known to make routine difficult. Against India his career average of 27 inflates to 42, and economy rate jumps from 5.15 to 5.95. The last time he played India he went for a comfortable 58 runs in a match that required a last over for 202 to be chased down. His Hobart harassment is still the most stunning of all. Malinga will want to correct this poor record against India.
India don’t like to play around with their combination, but Varun Aaron’s poor control in the first match might make way for Ishwar Pandey.
India (probable) 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 Rohit Sharma, 3 Virat Kohli (capt.), 4 Ajinkya Rahane, 5 Ambati Rayudu, 6 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Varun Aaron/Ishwar Pandey
Sri Lanka will want to keep the winning combination going.
Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Kusal Perera, 2 Lahiru Thirimanne, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Dinesh Chandimal, 6 Angelo Mathews (capt.), 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Chaturanga de Silva, 9 Sachithra Senanayake, 10 Lasith Malinga, 11 Suranga Lakmal
Pitch and conditions
These are fairly good batting conditions and a lightning quick outfield so a huge total can’t be too far away.
Stats and trivia
R Ashwin needs two strikes to reach 100 ODI wickets. If he does this in this match, his 77th, he will be the seventh-fastest Indian there. Irfan Pathan, at 59 matches, is the fastest Indian to the mark. Harbhajan Singh, the sixth-fastest, took his 100th in his 76th match.
This is the 144th ODI between India and Sri Lanka. No two teams have played each other this often. Pakistan-Sri Lanka is second at 138, and Australia-West Indies third at 135.