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India-Sri Lanka semifinal: the makings of a classic

Angelo Mathews’s team may have scrapped its way to the semis, but Dhoni will be more than aware of the danger it can pose

India-Sri Lanka semifinal: the makings of a classic - Cricket News
Riding on the back of three comfortable victories, India comes into the match, a confident unit.
Mumbai. Perth. Adelaide. Brisbane. Hobart. Dhaka. Hambantota. Colombo. Pallekele. And now Cardiff. No city in the world is safe, these days, and it seems as though the only requirement for India and Sri Lanka to play each other in a One-Day International is the existence of a cricket ground. Since the final of ICC World Cup 2011, which India won at home, the two teams have met 10 times, with India winning seven times and one game being tied. In this case, though, familiarity has bred respect and, though the fans might occasionally whinge about how often the teams play each other, there is much life in a rivalry fostered by geographical proximity.

Historically, Sri Lankans have found it hard to escape the feeling that their big bully neighbours have not done enough to help a nation that has worked hard to get where it is. In cricket’s boardrooms, it is much the same, and although Sri Lanka Cricket gets on famously with the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the relationship is not one between equals. On the field, though, the story is significantly different.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni is never drawn into answering hypothetical questions, but you can be sure he would have much rather drawn South Africa or England in the semifinal. Even with the forecast for Thursday being ordinary, with constant cloud cover and intermittent rain being on the cards, the threat of South Africa’s extra bounce or England’s swing pales in comparison to Sri Lanka’s situational awareness.

Although Angelo Mathews has the privilege of walking out for the toss, the team is given direction by two men who have a combined experience of 737 ODIs. Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, former captains both, have experienced almost all there is to see in the game. After an early period where they, as promising youngsters, learnt from grandmasters of controlling a game, such as Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva, Jayawardene and Sangakkara, have grown to an extent that they don’t need the captaincy badge to be leaders.

The one thing Sri Lanka needs to get right, is the balance of its team. The importance of this was underscored in the loss to India in the World Cup final, when an injury to Mathews meant that wholesale changes had to be made to keep the team running smoothly. Here, on a small ground in Cardiff, with straight boundaries just about pushing 60 yards, Sri Lanka will have to choose between slotting in the extra bowler or batsman. Ideally, the problem can be solved by squeezing Thisara Perera into the team, and given Nuwan Kulasekara’s success, he can hardly be overlooked.

Shaminda Eranga, the most obvious wicket-taking threat with his ability to extract good bounce and swing, could have a big role to play if the conditions are as they are expected to be. This leaves Sri Lanka with only one option, and that is to leave out a batsman to make room for Perera. The obvious candidate to miss out would be Kusal Perera, who has three failures in the tournament, and 10 runs to his name. India won’t need reminding of the threat Perera can pose, his five-wicket bag in Dambulla in 2010 and a muscular 44 in Hambantota in 2012 are the sort of performances that stick in the mind.

India, for its part, wears an exceptionally settled look for a unit that has only come together and is in the early stages of bedding down. The key to its success has been the manner in which the openers have been able to suss out the conditions and attack when the opportunity presents itself while still being able to pull back and defend when required. With three venues being used, natural variations in conditions have meant that no team has had a fix on exactly what a good score is. In India’s case, the quality of the top seven, coupled with the fact that each batsman can be explosive, has ensured that adaptability has not been an issue.

India comes into the game on the back of three relatively comfortable wins, while Sri Lanka has had to scrap to get to this stage. While India enjoys being in a situation where the motor is purring and nothing more than a bit of fine-tuning is required, Sri Lanka is at its most dangerous when it has to fight for every run and wicket. If the weather holds, this match has the makings of a classic, the regularity with which the two teams face off notwithstanding.  

Teams: (likely)
India: Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Dinesh Karthik, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt, wk), Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav.

Sri Lanka: Lahiru Thirimanne, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Mahela Jayawardene, Dinesh Chandimal, Angelo Mathews (capt), Thisara Perera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga, Rangana Herath, Shaminda Eranga.

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