Prior to the start of the ongoing One-Day International series between India and Sri Lanka, India were in the middle of a limited-overs series against West Indies, getting ready to shift to the Test matches. At the same time, the Sri Lankans were wrapping up a well-deserved break, getting back into their fitness regimes before the action started again.
In the two matches we have seen of the ODI series so far, the Indians have looked like a team that was match-ready. The Sri Lankans have looked out of sorts. Like a bunch that was just about getting out of a bit of a slumber. And so, as we get ready for the third ODI of the five-match series in Hyderabad, to be played at Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Uppal on Sunday (November 9), it’s difficult to see an Indian defeat.
It’s difficult to blame the Sri Lankans for the way things have turned out. This series, in many ways, was unfair on them.
But while that is something they can earn sympathy from, that’s all they are likely to get. Angelo Mathews said he was “embarrassed” after Sri Lanka lost the second ODI by a mile in Ahmedabad the other evening. Yes, they were “underprepared” heading into the series, but they are playing a series, five ODIs – of which only three are left – which they could still look at as a bonus in their preparations for the 2015 World Cup. Instead, they have appeared dispirited at times, without the sort of fight that was the standout feature of their game over the past few months, when they beat England in England and Pakistan at home. Even when they lost at home to South Africa, they did enough to hold their heads up high. So far in India, they haven’t done that. No team wants to lose, but Sri Lanka haven’t played as well as they are capable of.
Roger Wijesuriya, their spin bowling coach, accepted that on the eve of the match. “Before this tour, we had time for the England tour, and the boys got on with the physical side more. We were concentrating on that,” he said. “So it was a bit of a mix. At the last moment, when West Indies pulled out, there was limited time when we had to get on with the practice sessions. But, at the same time, at this level, you have to raise (your game).”
The Sri Lankan approach so far does two things. One, it sets them back somewhat ahead of the seven-match ODI series against England at home starting later this month. Two, it does nothing for the Indians. The series was a bonus for the Indians too, from the limited-overs perspective. If it hadn’t been there, the one remaining ODI against West Indies, which never took place, would have been the last game for India before they went to Australia for the Tests and the triangular series, also involving England. The squad that goes there must be, by and large, the squad that plays the World Cup.
These ODIs against Sri Lanka could have hardened them up a little bit more before the tough times that lie ahead. But success against a team that hasn’t come to the party yet – how much is it really worth?
In a way, it’s not fair to the Indians either. They can do their best, win the series easily, but still be told that they weren’t up against a strong unit. Not winning would have been terrible, but winning is not going to be valued much. It’s a no-win situation for them as well.
“It doesn’t really matter what the other team is feeling like, what their strengths and weaknesses are, as long as we are focussed on what we want to do,” said Kohli in response to a question on what the Indian team has really gained from the first two games. “If we improve our areas of concern, that we have, oppositions should not matter, and that’s the kind of culture and belief we are trying to build into this team now – that we are so confident in our own group that we don’t look away from it. The more you run away from your own core group, the more pressure you invite.”
Mathews and Kohli, the two captains, are both proud men. The Sri Lankans also have Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan, outstanding cricketers who might not have been ready for this series, but must want to make a mark while it still makes sense. All it might take Sri Lanka is one big individual effort with the bat, or a partnership that demoralises the Indians, or an inspired spell with the ball. Nuwan Kulasekara hasn’t had a go yet; maybe he might be the one to make the difference. Or it could be the old firm of Sangakkara and Jayawardene, both of whom have looked in decent touch, to put together a special one. It could be Mathews. Or Dilshan. Or someone else altogether.
If any of these things happen, the Hyderabad crowd will get a contest to remember. If not, it could well be one-day traffic again with the Indians having an easy time of it, like they did in Cuttack and Ahmedabad.
India: Virat Kohli (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Ravindra Jadeja, Stuart Binny, R Ashwin, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Axar Patel, Amit Mishra, Dhawal Kulkarni, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, M Vijay.
Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews (capt), Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kusal Perera, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Mahela Jayawardene, Upul Tharanga, Seekkuge Prasanna, Ashan Priyanjan, Thisara Perera, Suraj Randiv, Dhammika Prasad, Chathuranga de Silva, Niroshan Dickwella, Lahiru Gamage, Nuwan Kulasekara.