‘Experimentation’ is Indian cricket’s new favourite word. Each time a member of the staff or a player is spoken to, there is an emphasis on the word. You simply cannot go a day without hearing it.
They are so involved in the process, that it nearly cost them the second One-Day International in Pallekele. The question now is, will they continue to experiment even if it could mean an end to their blemish-free record in Sri Lanka on this tour?
At the start of the ODI series, Virat Kohli went so far as saying that they will not mind losing a few games if it helps to identify the core group for the World Cup 2019.
If the Indian captain maintains his stance despite suffering a rude shock in the form of Akila Dananjaya on Thursday, there is every reason to believe that there will be some changes for the third game of the five-match series in Pallekele on Sunday (August 27).
It is unlikely that Kohli will slip down the order and bat behind KL Rahul and Kedar Jadhav again – that experiment fell on its face, but there could be one change in the personnel, owing to a spin-friendly surface.
Kohli will be tempted to play all three spinners at his disposal — Axar Patel, Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav — because the ball is not coming on to the bat. Even Jasprit Bumrah brought his pace down significantly with off-cutters and ended up with four wickets.
Sri Lanka: Chamara Kapugedera (capt), Angelo Mathews, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Lahiru Thirimanne, Kusal Mendis, Dinesh Chandimal, Milinda Siriwardana, Akila Dananjaya, Malinda Pushpakumara, Dushmantha Chameera, Vishwa Fernando.
India: Virat Kohli (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Kedar Jadhav/Manish Pandey, MS Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
During the second ODI, Hardik Pandya pulled up with what seemed like a niggle in the knee, but Bhuvneshwar Kumar and R Sridhar, the bowling coach, explained that it was just a cramp and that the allrounder will be ready in time for Sunday’s clash.
Had Pandya been ruled out, either Shardul Thakur, the team’s third seamer, would have got a go-ahead or the three-spinner attack could have been tried out. If India persist with two tweakers, then the possibility of two wrist spinners, meaning Chahal and Kuldeep, in the final eleven is high.
Axar was brilliant in the first ODI in Dambulla, where he picked up three wickets and set up India’s nine-wicket win, but he was not as effective as a wicket-taking option on the Pallekele pitch. Because of his accuracy, he was able to come away with figures of 1 for 30 from 10 overs, but it was Chahal, with his loopy leg-breaks, who found more success on this strip.
Though his figures of 2 for 43 runs from a full quota of overs do not read too differently from Axar’s spell, he was able to beat the bat with more regularity. The grip on the surface certainly favoured the legspinner. Also Dananjaya’s six-wicket spell in the previous game should give Kohli the confidence to play Kuldeep, the Chinaman.
While India continue to mix it up in an effort to perfect an already impressive team, Sri Lanka are back to the board room figuring a way around a new set of issues.
If they did not have enough trouble with the team combination, coaching staff, administration, and most importantly, a string a losses, they have now lost Upul Tharanga, their skipper, because of slow over-rate suspension. This was Tharanga’s second offence in three months, after sitting out a couple of games in the Champions Trophy in June.
To make matters much worse, Danushka Gunathilaka is also ruled out for at least ten days due to a shoulder injury he suffered while fielding at point during the second ODI.
Gunathilaka has been among the most consistent performers for Sri Lanka in recent times, and his alliance at the top with Niroshan Dickwella is something Sri Lanka will miss. In his absence, Lahiru Thirimanne could return to opening the innings for Sri Lanka. Thirimanne, who last played for Sri Lanka in 2016, has put up good numbers in the past as an opener, but it will remain to be seen if his partnership with the young Dickwella can be as effective.
On the positive side of things, Dinesh Chandimal, the Test skipper, returns to the side after being dropped for the earlier series against Zimbabwe. One would expect a player of Chandimal’s talent to be a shoo-in but with Sri Lanka Cricket things are not as black and white.
Chamara Kapugedera, who played his 100th ODI on Thursday, was named the stand-in skipper. The logic in the promotion is that he is the vice-captain of the side in any case. There is some meaning to that rationale, but not handing Lasith Malinga the role is a bit out of place. Malinga, who has played 201 ODIs, has enough experience as a captain to don the stand-in role. Unless of course, the selectors are planning to drop him for this game.
Malinga’s current form is unbecoming of the talent that he has been for Sri Lanka cricket. Since his return from a bone bruise on his left knee, Malinga has picked up seven wickets in nine games bowling 485 deliveries. Even in the last game, Dananjaya had laid the perfect platform for him to bowl Sri Lanka to a win, and Malinga failed. He did not have control over his yorker and his bouncers were not as deadly as they used to be. To top it off, he bowled six wides.
It is not as if Sri Lanka have a string of pacers they can go to should the need arise, but the Indians have Malinga all figured out, and this is as good a time as any for Sri Lanka to start experimenting with an eye on the future. Perhaps, a three-pronged spin attack with Malinda Pushpakumara in the mix will not be a bad option for this game.
With no reference to Malinga, sometimes getting rid of baggage can lighten the load and help you travel the bumpy road with a little more success. That said, the likelihood of success against India in this series looks very bleak. All the more now because the Indians will have a point to prove to Dananjaya and the rest of Sri Lanka.
Ruthless is the only way to describe them.