India resume WC build-up against 'under-cooked' Sri Lanka
Cuttack: Their World Cup build-up halted by West Indies team's sudden mid-series pullout, India would resume the preparations for the mega-event when they square off against under-cooked sub-continental rivals Sri Lanka in a hastily-arranged ODI series starting here tomorrow.
A series against the depleted Lankans on surfaces totally different from those on offer in Australia and New Zealand may not be the ideal launchpad but it would certainly give the reigning world champions an opportunity to test their bench strength under stand-in skipper Virat Kohli.
Regular skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni has been rested for the first three ODIs of the five-match series.
Having come here on SOS after the West Indies cricketers' abrupt pull-out midway into the series last month over a pay dispute with WICB, the Sri Lankans are without their injured premier pace duo of Lasith Malinga and Suranga Lakmal, while spin aces Ajantha Mendis and Rangana Herath too will be missed.
That India A side, under Manoj Tiwary, plundered 382 runs in 50 overs with centuries from Rohit Sharma (142) and Manish Pandey (135 not out) in their 88-run win against the Lankans in the only practice match at CCI on October 30, is a pointer to the quality of the visiting team's attack.
At a time when Kohli is looking to rediscover himself and Ajinkya Rahane competing for the opening slot against Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, the series would give plenty of opportunities to the Indian batsmen to get back among runs.
After a forgettable England tour, Kohli has been in the spotlight for the wrong reasons as he had to shuffle his position to No 4 to get back to form. It worked as he scored a 62 against the West Indies in Delhi and followed that up with a 127 at his familiar No 3 spot.
For somebody who's seen as a future captaincy material, Kohli would be under pressure to lead the side for the first three ODIs. He will also look to keep the critics at bay.
The stats may indicate otherwise with Kohli winning nine out of the 12 ODIs he's led but under his captaincy India, without Dhoni and Suresh Raina, lost to Pakistan and Sri Lanka be eliminated at group stage at the Asia Cup in Bangladesh.
But the silver lining for the stylish right-hander would be his batting average -- 65.12 against the overall 51.57 -- with three centuries from the 12 ODIs, something that may indicate that he's not weighed down by the additional responsibility.
That Kohli (133 innings) needs only 121 runs to become the fastest ODI batsman to complete 6K in ODIs would be an added motivation for the Indian youngster who would turn 26 on November 5.
As a matter of fact, both Kohli and Sir Viv Richards took 114 innings to reach the 5K club.
As for Rahane, Dhoni's choice for the opening slot in place of Sharma, the series would give at least three opportunities before the Mumbaikar staked his claim with an imposing 111-ball 142 against the visiting Lankans in the practice match.
Dhawan had a half-century against the Windies but the fans would definitely want more from the left-hander who left an indelible effect on the Aussies around the same time last year with 284 from six outings before entering a lean patch.
Raina, on the other hand, would look to carry on his fine form and provide the finishing touches, and the series would also provide another chance to Bengal glovesman Wriddhiman Saha to prove his mettle as a wicketkeeper as well as batsman.
For India's another batter Ambati Rayudu, who has been travelling with the side almost on every tours, it would perhaps be the last opportunity to get back among runs or the selectors may be forced to look for an alternative in Yuvraj Singh—the chief architect of India's 2011 World Cup triumph.
Like always, India's weakest link would be their bowling attack with the likes of Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron and Ishant Sharma expected to share the new-ball in place of the regulars Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami.
In the spin department, Ravichandran Ashwin would make a comeback and would play the big role of a hard-hitting allrounder in the absence of Dhoni. Ashwin was seen batting a lot during the nets yesterday.
India's premier leggie Amit Mishra and young left-arm spinner Axar Patel would look to vie for a place in the XI.
The Lankans' brittle bowling attack might prove to be a worry and skipper Angelo Mathews has acknowledged the fact that their past experience has not been good and it would be interesting to see how the youngsters perform on the gruelling tour.
“Herath is one our most experienced guys but we wanted to give an opportunity to the younger guys. We have players like Seekkuge Prasanna, Chaturanga De Silva and Suraj Randiv. Malinga unfortunately is not fit,” Mathews had said.
Malinga's absence, due to an ankle surgery, would be a blow to their death bowling options and it would be interesting to see how their offie Suraj Randiv performs without Mendis and Herath.
In such times, the side would again look up to the experienced duo of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.
While Tillakaratne Dilshan would be their main batsman atop the order, the Lankans would also want the likes of Kusal Perera and Upul Tharanga to contribute.
Coach Marvan Atapattu would have a big challenge as they have been the second successful team in ODIs in 2014 afer South Africa.
The Barabati track, which saw 418 runs being scored in the IPL T20 match between Kings XI Punjab and Chennai Super Kings, is expected to be a belter and according to the local curator both the teams may have to watch out for a bit of dew late in the evening.
India: Virat Kohli (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Wriddhiman Saha, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Dhawal Kulkarni, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Amit Mishra, Murali Vijay, Varun Aaron, Akshar Patel.
Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews (capt), Kusal Perera, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Upul Tharanga, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Ashan Priyanjan, Niroshan Dickwella, Thisara Perera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Dhammika Prasad, Lahiru Gamage, Chaturanga de Silva, Seekuge Prasanna, Suraj Randiv.
Match starts at 1.30 pm (IST).