One way or another Sri Lanka’s misery will come to an end on Sunday (September 3).
Either they will put an end to a six-match losing spree that began against Zimbabwe in the fourth of five One-Day Internationals on July 8, with a win – or they will suffer yet another defeat at the hands of India and be swept 5-0.
There is a one-off Twenty20 International to be played on Wednesday, and that is when the tour formally comes to a close, but a win there will not mean much, at least not as much as winning – even if only as a consolation – at the R Premadasa Stadium in the final ODI of this series in Colombo.
Sri Lanka lost the chance to ensure direct qualification for the 2019 World Cup stayed in their hands, but they can still improve their chances of gaining a direct berth with victory here, apart from salvaging pride. Then too, given how their cricket has spiralled out of control since India landed on their shores, this is their shot to show the rest of the world that they can bounce back in the face of adversity.
So far, they have not been successful in their attempts, and a large part of those failed tries have come about because of how clinical their opponents have been. But there is always the hope that lady luck is somewhere around the corner.
Sri Lanka: Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Danushka Gunathilaka, Kusal Mendis, Upul Tharanga (capt), Lahiru Thirimanne, Angelo Mathews, Milinda Siriwardana, Akila Dananjaya, Malinda Pushpakumara, Vishwa Fernando, Lasith Malinga.
India: Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli (capt), KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, MS Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Shardul Thakur.
For that though, Sri Lanka will need to pull up their socks and up their game significantly, because India are not going to be complacent about this game. This is the visiting side’s chance at an 8-0 sweep, the likes of which they have never achieved overseas in a series comprising a minimum of three Tests and three ODIs.
Going by what Kohli had to say at the post-match presentation of their 168-run win on Thursday, he was planning on sticking to same eleven for the upcoming game, but because of a late development on Saturday, he will be forced to make one change.
Shikhar Dhawan will travel to India on the morning of the game to be by his ailing mother, the Board of Control for Cricket in India said in a release. The release added that the left-hander will also miss the sole T20I.
This means,Ajinkya Rahane, the team’s third opener, will finally get a chance to bat in the limited-overs leg of the series. Such is India’s strength that they could afford to have someone of Rahane’s ability on the bench for four games.
What Sri Lanka would do for such luxury!
They have lost a bunch of their batsmen to injuries and have since been reduced to a young squad without a set captain at the helm. The good news at the moment is that Upul Tharanga will return to captaining the side after having served the two-match ban for a slow over-rate offence in the second game at Pallekele.
In his absence, Chamara Kapugedera stood as the skipper in the third ODI, and that gamble didn’t quite work as he opted to bat on winning Sri Lanka’s only toss of the series so far, despite discussing with the team that they would field first should the toss go their way. There is an ongoing enquiry on the so-called ‘brain fade’, but in any case, he is ruled out of the series with a bad back.
Lasith Malinga took over as the skipper for the fourth ODI and made some interesting bowling changes, not allowing the bowlers to settle in with a long spell. He defended his rotation policy citing hot and humid conditions, but two-over spells had allowed India’s batsmen to pick the wayward bowling apart en route to 375 for 5.
Sri Lanka had chased down India’s 322 in the Champions Trophy in June, so a few hoped for a miracle, ignoring – consciously or unconsciously – that this time the team had to go after the mammoth target without Danushka Gunathilaka, Kusal Perera and Asela Gunaratne.
The trio, who had added a combined 157 runs in that run chase, are out with injuries. Perera and Gunaratne were ruled out even before the start of the series, while Gunathilaka suffered a shoulder injury during the second game. Gunathilaka’s presence at the top would have been a shot in the arm for Sri Lanka, and it seemed like he would make the cut, but following Saturday’s practice session, he was ruled out.
Speaking of presence, what about MS Dhoni? Looking sharper than ever before, at 36, the former Indian skipper is on a mission. Dhoni has so far compiled three successive unbeaten knocks, and two of those came when India were under the pump.
He has made minor technical changes to his batting and is now reaping the rewards for his commitment. One could downplay these knocks, saying they came against a toothless bowling attack, but to not pay heed to how methodically he has built each of his innings, never mind the quality of bowling, is discrediting Dhoni, the batsman.
There was the one game – when Akila Dananjaya picked up six wickets and left India reeling at 131 for 7 – where Sri Lanka came within sniffing distance of a win. A victory in the second ODI in Pallekele could have been an answer to each of the three captains’ prayers. “One win will change everything,” they had all said.
They did not cross the line then because Dhoni and Bhuvneshwar Kumar came in their way.
Since then, the hosts have been in search of something that has been so elusive it almost seems illusive, probably even to a few in the dressing room.