He’s (Virat Kohli) batting exceptionally well, but we’ve (Lasith) Malinga. So we will see tomorrow,” Dinesh Chandimal spelled out the key contestants ahead of the Asia Cup clash between the two countries.
Usually, India-Sri Lanka cricket matches are not attritional. They’ve played so much against each other in the past. The present, however, is a little different. Matches come thick and fast in this Asia Cup and there’s no time to sit back and relax. A minor slip-up can lead to an exit from the tournament.
Kohli versus Malinga is an obvious and very popular catch-line for Friday’s game, once again to be played at the non-descript Fatullah. The stand-in India captain has scored a match-winning century in his first match of the tournament, while Malinga took five wickets against Pakistan to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
The healthy rivalry between the two world-class performers adds spice to the contest but doesn’t make it the only thing to watch out for. India also have players like Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane and Ravindra Jadeja. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, can boast of the collective experience and class of Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Angelo Mathews. Lahiru Thirimanne’s 110-ball 102 against the best bowling attack of the tournament in the first match suggested that the 24-year-old opener is an exciting prospect.
Chandimal talked about the “added advantage” of knowing the conditions better than their rivals. Indeed, Sri Lanka have been here for the last two months.
Despite playing each other several times in the last few years, the two teams are playing for the first time in seven months. The last time when they met, MS Dhoni decided the contest in the final over at the Queens Park Oval. His pyrotechnics won India the tri-series as Shaminda Eranga, who was the bowler, left the ground almost in tears. Dhoni is recuperating from a side strain at the moment, while Eranga is not picked for the Asia Cup. Both teams have some fresh faces who will be under the spotlight.
Aaron or Pandey?
Will India change their winning combination? Varun Aaron turned out to be easy pickings even for the Bangladesh batsmen, the extra pace notwithstanding. The replacement available is Ishwar Pandey, who hasn’t made his debut for the national side yet, despite travelling with the squad to New Zealand. The problem with going with an extra spinner is that heavy dew in the second half might make slower bowlers redundant. Still, spin is India’s strength and Amit Mishra might get a game during the tournament, though it is unlikely to be against Sri Lanka, considering Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja returned reasonable figures against Bangladesh.
India had an optional practice session on Thursday and those who warmed the bench for the first game had a decent workout in the nets. Mishra bowled with full intensity. Problem is that India usually don’t like to tinker with their 3-2 bowling combination. Also, going with just two specialist seamers is always fraught with danger in limited-overs cricket. Kohli is likely to play safe.
But spin is certainly on the mind of the Sri Lankans with Chandimal indicating that Ajantha Mendis could play a part on Friday. The two front-line Sri Lankan spinners, Sachithra Senanayake and Chaturanga de Silva, gave away 103 runs in their 19 overs for just two wickets in the first match. In good batting conditions, Mendis’s variety might help.
Back to Malinga and his ability to bowl yorkers at the death and make even the newish ball reverse. “This is his natural ability,” said Chandimal. But a bowling average of 42, compared to his career average of 27, and an economy rate of 5.95 against India suggest that the Indian batters handle him better than the rest.
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