Monday, February 18, 2008

Pressure mounts on India

Ishara Amerasinghe has recovered from his side strain and will be playing against India...

It's 38 C in Adelaide and the Indians find themselves in the hot seat. It's the business end of the tournament and even if their countenance suggests they are relaxed, the sweat is steadily gathering across those creased foreheads.

A loss tomorrow against Sri Lanka will push them to the bottom of the points table. They will not want a situation where their last league game becomes virtual semi-final. Meanwhile Sri Lanka have played one game less and are taking it easy despite being at bottom of table for now.

There's no ignoring that fact that the pressure levels are mounting for both teams, especially now that Australia have entered the safety zone with three wins in five games. Both India and Sri Lanka have themselves to blame for making Australia's job easy, considering both were on top of the hosts in the last two encounters. Sri Lanka stuttered chasing a modest 233 in Perth last week while India, having restricted the Australians to 203, slipped miserably to 153.

These two opponents meet for the third time with Sri Lanka holding the slightest of edges, having scored an emphatic eight-wicket win in the rain-reduced clash in Canberra which was nearly a Twenty20 affair. Mahendra Singh Dhoni will gather solace from the fact that his bowlers have toppled oppositions consistently and it is just the batting order that needs to pull its act together. Sri Lanka's problems are doubled with both their batting and bowling yet to fall in to the place.

Mahela Jayawardene admitted as much though he felt Sri Lanka stand to push forward the advantage they accumulated in Canberra. "We've been inconsistent with the bat. I thought the bowlers have lifted their mark, but we haven't batted well at all," Jayawardene said, before his team's practice session at the Adelaide Oval. He agreed the battle was now between Sri Lanka and India with Australia all but in the finals. "Now it's like a two horse race to get into the finals," Jayawardene said.

He also felt both Sri Lanka and India had to realise the reason Australia were sitting pretty, despite playing inconsistently, was because they had prospered on the mistakes of their two opponents. "We are not pushing the advantage. Australia haven't played good cricket. I don't think the two other teams are capitalising on their weaknesses. He said it was Australia's experience and their bowling that had saved them from losing twice over.

Lack of experience might be one of the reasons behind India's inconsistent display with the bat. Dhoni's young batting line-up, especially the middle order, has proved to be thin on patience whenever they have found themselves in a tricky situation and Australia proved it right on Sunday while defending a small total. Irfan Pathan, who took four wickets in that game, looked at the flipside to the squad's inexperience. "It is actually good for the players and the team in a way because they will start thinking of what they need to do and learn from it, Pathan explained. "Some guys in the middle order are young. We have to give them time, no one is going to come and show maturity [immediately]."

The Indians opted out of a practice session today but they will be busy working out the right combination considering how crucial tomorrow's match is. On Sunday India played with five bowlers but following the loss, it remains to be seen if they will stick to the same combination. Dhoni hinted last evening that he had intended to play five bowlers against Sri Lanka. But now with Virender Sehwag expected to be fit for tomorrow's game, Dhoni might be tempted to go with an extra batsman to guard against an imminent collapse.

If that were to happen the only change would be Munaf Patel or Sreesanth making way for Sehwag. It is likely that the team management will pick Sreesanth because though Munaf bowled within himself on Sunday, if he has an off day he becomes a liability with his inability to perform with the bat or in the field. Sreesanth, on the other hand, despite proving expensive gives the promise with his aggression.

Jayawardene felt the five-bowler theory has worked for teams thereby suggesting he might be thinking of sticking to that policy. Fast bowler Ishara Amerasinghe, who had to sit out of the last two games after an impressive beginning in his first two games due to side strain, comes in for Nuwan Kulasekara.

India (likely) 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Sachin Tendulkar, 3 Gautam Gambhir, 4 Rohit Sharma, 5 Mahendra Singh Dhoni, 6 Yuvraj Singh, 7 Robin Uthappa, 8 Irfan Pathan, 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Sreesanth, 11 Ishant Sharma.

Sri Lanka (likely) 1 Sanath Jayasuriya, 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Kumar Sangakkara, 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Chamara Silva 6 Chamara Kapugedera, 7 Farveez Maharoof, 8 Chaminda Vaas, 9 Ishara Amerasinghe, 10 Lasith Malinga, 11 Muttiah Muralitharan.

India v Sri Lanka, CB Series, 8th match, Adelaide.