Sri Lankan cricket is bleeding and there’s no one to stop it. Even Sanath Jayasuriya, their chief selector, has given up.
Unfortunately for them, the game is still on, and Sri Lanka don’t have the time to stitch up the gashes. A prayer is all they can afford as they prepare, seemingly without hope, for the fourth One-Day International against India on Thursday (August 31) at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo.
India might just take it easy and make some changes to their frontline because they have won three in a row to seal the five-match series, but even then the Indian side should have enough in their arsenal to put it over a hapless Sri Lanka.
Three captains in four games, five injured players and the resignation of the selection panel. All these have happened between the start of the series and now. Before that, Sri Lanka had to endure a slew of injuries while being swept in the preceding three-match Test series. Oh, and they lost 3-2 to Zimbabwe in an ODI series at home before the Indian tour kicked off.
No wonder the fans took to protesting around the team bus in Dambulla and throwing bottles on to the playing area in Pallekele. Those were uncharacteristic reactions to an unprecedented situation. Though Sri Lanka cricket has not been the same as before in recent years, followers have always stood by them because the side has always shown heart. No matter the opponent, personnel or format, they won some and lost some, but always battled tooth and nail to ensure their people had something to go back with. When the fans sensed that that spirit had died, they voiced their displeasure.
The crowd trouble only made things worse. It was why the Jayasuriya-led panel handed in its resignation on Tuesday.
Among the final decisions they took was the promotion of Lasith Malinga to the captain’s post. The decision needed to be taken because Chamara Kapugedera – himself a stand-in skipper after Upul Tharanga was suspended for two games because of his team’s slow over-rate in the second ODI – was ruled out with a back injury. The other call was that of the inclusion of Dhananjaya de Silva and Dilshan Munaweera in the squad.
With the latest (and counting) injury setback, the Sri Lankan side will look nothing like the team that was announced for the series. It is far more inexperienced than the original 15.
Even as Sri Lanka try to stay afloat in these turbulent times, India are reaping the rewards of planning and professionalism. Surely there is a lesson there for Sri Lanka.
Although they have not played too much ODI cricket over the last one year, there were plans in place ahead of the series. While winning this ODI series was on top of the priority list, Virat Kohli, the Indian skipper, and his team were simultaneously trying to get an early start to get their combination for the 2019 World Cup in place.
Now, with the series in the bag, the World Cup programme assumes significance and there will be a few changes for the fourth ODI.
Ajinkya Rahane, Manish Pandey, Shardul Thakur and Kuldeep Yadav are the ones who have not featured in the three games so far. Of the lot, Pandey and Kuldeep look most likely to make it to the XI. If so, Pandey will come in for Kedar Jadhav, who has had a poor run, and Kuldeep will replace Yuzvendra Chahal.
Sri Lanka: Lasith Malinga (capt), Dilshan Munaweera, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Kusal Mendis, Lahiru Thirimanne, Angelo Mathews, Milinda Siriwardana, Wanindu Hasaranga, Dushmantha Chameera, Akila Dananjaya, Vishwa Fernando.
India: Virat Kohli (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, MS Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Shardul Thakur.
Rahane should feel so unlucky because Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan are in prime touch at the top. The only slot he could potentially fit in to is if KL Rahul is left out. Rahul looked in poor nick in the first two games, getting out for 4 for 17, both times to Akila Dananjaya. If the team management wants, they could tinker a bit there.
There is also reason to believe that Thakur could play in place of either Bhuvneshwar Kumar or Jasprit Bumrah. That will be an interesting challenge for the selectors, but at this stage, it looks like Bhuvneshwar will be one warming the bench.
All of these changes are subject to the degree to which India want to experiment.
One way or the other, though, MS Dhoni’s place in the XI is assured. After all, on Thursday, he will be taking the field for the 300th time in ODIs for India, joining Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Mohammad Azharuddin and Yuvraj Singh in the list of Indians who have reached the milestone number.
A team dinner is planned to celebrate the occasion after the game so, one way or the other, the Indians are going to be popping champagne. Can Sri Lanka spoil the taste of the bubbly somewhat?