London: One thing that is impossible to miss during a pre-match practice and press conference is the mood in the camp. And it could not have been more contrasting than what was visible on Wednesday as India and Sri Lanka geared up for the crucial Group B encounter to be played at the Oval on Thursday.
Not since the meteoric rise of the Lankans has the scales been tilted so much in favour of the ‘Men in Blue’, as for many the result of the match is a foregone conclusion.
Sri Lanka practiced first and the bunch was greeted at the Oval with some bright sunshine. But the mood wasn’t very upbeat and there is a reason for it, the men from the ‘Emerald Isles’ know the weight of the onerous task that lie ahead of them.
Soon it became worse as middle-order batsman Chamara Kapugedera hobbled off after injuring himself during practice, and with experienced opener Upul Tharanga already out of the contest after being banned for slow over-rate while standing in for captain Angelo Mathews in the first match, Sri Lanka are staring at a playing XI which could be even more inexperienced than the one Pakistan opted for against India.
The very reason why captain Mathews sounded emotional when asked about how much the team misses the services of Kumar Sangakkara who – after retiring from international cricket – has been trailing a blaze of glory at this very ground for Surrey in the English County Championship.
“Even a couple days ago, I was asking him can you come and play for us, you know, in this game? He’s been in absolute form. He’s been in form ever since he started playing, to be honest.
“He’s always having chats to us on how we should play on these conditions, especially. It’s unfortunate we don’t have him, but, yes, it’s very tempting to call him back again,” Mathews said.
Mathews will not bowl in the match as he is yet to regain full fitness, but his presence in itself is important for the Lankans if they are to have even an outside chance of upsetting India. The captain spent a lot of time facing pace bowlers in the nets, after all in this Indian line-up the pace bowlers are a menacing lot.
And the fact that there is a tinge of grass on the surface, makes the sign even more ominous for the Lankans, although the captain underplayed it’s importance.
“There is a little grass on the wicket, but we really don’t know as of now how the wicket will play. If the sun comes out it might be a different case,” he said.
But that tinge of grass could well be to the liking of Virat Kohli and his fast bowling brigade. Gone are the days when a tinge of grass in English conditions would send shivers down the spine of Indian teams. This Indian team has four in-form pacers, all capable of making the ball talk, thus making the captain a happy man.
“It feels good to have four or five bowlers who can change the game. It also boosts the confidence of the batsmen,” an upbeat Virat Kohli said.
The Indian team’s practice session was in marked contrast to that of Sri Lanka. Everybody was geared up, there was a lot of chirping and both the batsmen and the bowlers went in full steam.
The conditions and the fact that India won the first match could well mean that Ravichandran Ashwin may be asked to sit out once again. The senior spinner did spend a lot of time bowling in the nets and that too to captain Kohli, who said that the off-spinner had no qualms in being left on the bench if the conditions required so.
“Ashwin is a high class bowler and is very professional as well. He understood the dynamics of the side we picked for the last game. He told me that I support you with whatever you want to do and that has been our equation always,” the Indian captain added.
All four Indian top order batsmen scored fifties in the match against Pakistan and all four looked in pristine touch in the nets, middling most of the deliveries that came their way.
Yuvraj Singh, who stole the show with his cameo, was seen discussing his footwork and the initial trigger movement with batting coach Sanjay Bangar for a very long time. While not much can be commented on the conversation, but Yuvraj looked pretty comfortable, just as he was in the previous match.
While the result of the match looks like a foregone conclusion with India looking all prepared to steamroll the Lankans, the Indian captain hinted that there is no room for complacency, knowing very well that stranger things have happened on a cricket field.
“Sri Lanka are among the top eight teams and has done really well in ICC tournaments. They have talented players in their team who are young and can deliver match winning performances on their day,” Kohli said.
The Indian captain might have done the right thing by not taking the opponent lightly, but one thing is clear, there hasn’t been a bigger mismatch between the two Asian rivals in a long time and India look all set to make an entry into the semifinals on Thursday.
The weather is predicted to be cloudy but dry, meaning we are likely to get a full game. There was a bit of grass on the surface, and with cloudy over head conditions, you can expect the pitch to assist the fast bowlers for atleast the initial overs.
India: Virat Kohli (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), Kedar Jadhav, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ajinkya Rahane, Dinesh Karthik
Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews, Upul Tharanga, Dinesh Chandimal, Niroshan Dickewalla, Chamara Kapugedara, Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera, Thisara Perera, Sekkuge Prasanna, Nuwan Pradeep, Suranga Lakmal, Lakshan Sandakan, Lasith Malinga, Asela Gunaratne, Nuwan Kulasekara.
First Published: June 8, 2017, 8:31 AM IST