Sector 64 in Mohali is blanketed by a thick, grey foam of stationary clouds that have devoured the morning sun. The incessant overnight rain has washed the dusty brown pathways and brought temperatures down further, giving this satellite town a damp, wintery feel. At the main entrance of the IS Bindra PCA Stadium, cops are busy sipping milky chai from paper cups, while out in the centre, ground officials are working overtime, taking utmost care to ensure that most of the lush green outfield is neatly covered.
As the venue gears up to host the second ODI between India and Sri Lanka in less than 24 hours, they remain optimistic that rain wouldn’t play spoilsport. They are buoyed by reports from the meteorological department, which predicts that conditions would improve considerably and play would start, as scheduled.
“The rain was expected on Monday and Tuesday, but the weather is expected to clear by tomorrow. So, there’s not much doubt about play getting affected. The pitch and the outfield are well covered, and there aren’t any puddles. Even if there is drizzle in the morning, we are well equipped to clear the ground within half an hour,” a PCA official says.
The Indian team, which practised for close to three hours in the morning, would be hoping for a clear sky and sunshine when the match gets underway. Despite the damp conditions, Mohali is not as cold as Dharamsala, where Sri Lanka’s seam bowlers, led admirably by Suranga Lakmal, ran through India.
Sri Lanka captain Thisara Perera believes the pitch will be good for batting. But the damp conditions in Mohali will keep Lakmal & Co. interested in another encore. Rohit Sharma, though, will have other ideas. In his first series as India captain, he would want his young team, especially the middle order, to step up and show more responsibility. Barring MS Dhoni, none of the batsmen did anything substantial in the first ODI.
“We, as a team, want to thrive in these kinds of conditions and come out good,” Rohit Sharma said. “We are not always going to play on flat pitches all the time and you have to understand your game and find a way to come out from that situation. Today was not an ideal day for all our batters, but it was an eye-opener for all of us. Hopefully, in the next few games we can regroup and come out with a better batting performance,” he explained after the debacle in Dharamsala.
The Dhoni blueprint
Instead of hoping for conditions to turn in their favour, India’s batsmen would do well to take a leaf out of Dhoni’s book and watch how he chalked out his half-century in Dharamsala in utterly trying circumstances. Without even an ounce of support from the other end, the former skipper scored 65 out of his team’s 112, the most runs scored by an Indian batsmen when all 11 players had batted.
As the Sri Lankan seamers bowled disciplined lines around the off stump, making Indians play on most occasions, Dhoni showed that with a bit of pluck, runs could be scored even in Dharamsala’s seamer-friendly conditions. Instead of allowing the Lankan bowlers to dominate, he tried little adjustments to put them off, like the odd skip down the track, followed by a gentle nudge here and a nurdle there.
He always looked to take charge of proceedings, in contrast to some of his younger team mates like Shreyas Iyer and Dinesh Karthik (for all his experience), who were shoddy with their footwork against the moving ball, not knowing whether to play on the front foot or back. Such indecisiveness cost India the match.
Suffice to note that Rohit’s team is facing the heat in Mohali’s cool conditions. In the absence of their talisman—Virat Kohli — others in the top and middle order such as Iyer, Karthik and Manish Pandey – have done precious little to inspire the skipper’s confidence.
However, the team will be reluctant to make wholesale changes in their batting line-up. Rohit, after all, has always advocated giving youngsters a decent run. In such a scenario, with the series on the line, the onus would be on the young batsmen to come good, thereby easing the burden on Dhoni, their senior lieutenant in the middle order. It’s also a great opportunity for the likes of Iyer, Pandey and Karthik to stake claims.
Sri Lanka are chasing history in Mohali. A win here will give them their first bilateral series win over India in two decades. Rohit, on the other hand, would be looking for his first win as India captain.