Sri Lanka looks like the marginal favourites - Suneer Chowdhary Column

2008 Aug 16 by DreamCricket

The seniors have taken the long flight back home with browed creases, the white flannels have been replaced by the blues, but whether that would be enough to drive away the blues that Team India - or at least the fans - could be facing currently in Sri Lanka, is the more-than-million dollar question on everyoneâ??s lips.

The seniors have taken the long flight back home with browed creases, the white flannels have been replaced by the blues, but whether that would be enough to drive away the blues that Team India - or at least the fans - could be facing currently in Sri Lanka, is the more-than-million dollar question on everyone’s lips. Let’s face it, Team India would definitely not be the favourites going into the five ODI matches series against the Islanders, and the necessity to play out of one’s skin would be felt by the players from as early as the opening match, as against when they have their backs against the walls.

In a way, it augurs well for the Indian team that none of those five cricketers who have, for long, given yeoman services to the team would feature in the ODI series. Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid, Laxman and Kumble, have all made their way back for one reason or the other, injuries, axes and retirements included, after the series ended. The scars inflicted by the likes of Mendis and co. would have been too deep for them to be healed so soon, and the infusion of young blood would at least overcome the negative mindset that the aforesaid mentioned players could have brought with them into the match while facing up to the Sri Lankan freaks. What else does one call bowlers whose wrists almost rotate 360 degrees at a speed of million miles per hour and those who can use singular fingers to push deliveries with amazing consistency.

Having said that, it must also be remembered that it was this very set of players - give or take one or two - that was so mesmerised by Mendis in the Asia Cup finals that it would have given a tight-lipped adolescent on his first date, a run for his money. It was almost like Mendis was the Taj Mahal and the batsmen could just not stop adoring its beauty. Hopefully the youngsters would have learnt from their mistakes and would respect this bowler more than they ever did. Or perish.

But this series is not only about Mendis, it also has the other sidekicks. And the nuances that could be worth thinking about. For starters, skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni's first issue on hand would be the decision on the playing XI and the perennial dilemma that many an Indian captain has faced in his career; four frontline bowlers or five. Pitches in Sri Lanka do favour the spinners of the likes of Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh, but in Dhoni's memory would be fresh the Asia Cup final, when the lack of a proper fifth bowling option had cost India dear. Of course, it was the old Indian friend, Sanath Jayasuriya, who had had his usual dose of say in the match, and so, one wonders that if a batsman is ever in that kind of ravaging mood, any bowler would ever make a difference. Had it been for an in-form Irfan Pathan, it could have made the decision easier for Dhoni, but Pathan looks to be on borrowed time for now as well. Mind you, Pathan was going through a purple patch right through the ICC World T20 and after that, but he does seem to have his form swings, and one can hope that he gets out of the right side of the bed and performs according to the captain’s liking.

Yuvraj Singh's knock of 172 in the tour game says a lot about the mindset he is in right now. After been dropped for the test series in Sri Lanka, one can be rest assured that the flamboyant southpaw would be hurting. And this could augur well for team India in their quest to get better of their opponents; it is this hunger that should help. In fact, Yuvraj's form with the bat has not been too bad in the last 25 ODI or so, where he averages close to 40, the quandary has been something else. One could be termed as almost wicked in saying this, but such has been the precedents of his talent that getting to delightful 40s and even 50s, and then failing to convert them into something more substantial has affected his team. And that has put unnecessary pressure on the rest of the middle order.

If Dhoni does decide to go in with seven batsmen, it would be a straight shootout between the two greenhorns, under-19 skipper Virat Kohli and the omni-performer, S. Badrinath. Kohli's was a surprise selection, probably one of the last surprises that this selection committee has sprung onto everyone, while Badri - more deserved out of the two on the basis of performances - has almost made a back door entry after Tendulkar's body took another beating in the test matches. It must be noted that both of them are good fielders within the circle and so it would add to the Indian fielding repertoire, which has gone a little weak-kneed - literally speaking – after Yuvraj's knee injuries.

One batsman that may just be feeling the heat would be Rohit Sharma, who has been touted as the next big thing in Indian cricket, but so far has not lived up to the billing. It could have been due to the lack of opportunities, but one fifty in the last ten innings does not bode too well for him. He would be looking to prove a point or two, to himself, more than anyone else.

The Indian bowling looks to be in reasonably safe hands, even with the exit of Ishant Sharma. Zaheer Khan's bowling reasonably well, and one may term it as a gut feel, but this may just be the series that re-shoots Munaf Patel into prominence. Personally, I rate him highly as a bowler, and the feel one gets is that if he did concentrate on his other aspects of the game - fielding and fitness - it would help him take the pressure of his bowling as well. Harbhajan Singh would carry the spin bowling burden, but the big question that needs to be answered here is whether Pragyan Ojha could take that step forward to fill in the 'Jumbo' spinning boots of Anil Kumble. All said and done, there is that Jayasuriya factor who could take the game miles away if he decides to, irrespective of who the bowler is. At 39, he looks younger and fitter than most, and that has translated itself into a mindset that the Indians should be vary of.

However, one small thing that Team India would draw heart from is the selection gaffe in the Sri Lankan camp. Mahela Jayawardene made the shock very evident, on noticing that the team discussed with him in the selection meeting and the one that came out after that were distinctly different. While this does undermine the role of the Sri Lankan skipper, it also makes the selection and the panel look like a joke. What else can one describe the choice of a squad which has five – yes your read it right – openers vying for two spots in a home ODI series! Things do get quirky outside the BCCI as well! There have been reports of Kumar Sangakkara opening the inning with the old warhorse Sanath Jayasuriya, but that would mean that at least one of the openers would play as a middle order batsman. That would surprise me. Sangakkara may just want to bat at number three and one from Jehan Mubarak, Malinda Warnapura and Mahela Udawatte should open with Jayasuriya. The rest of the order is rather predictable, with the wicket-keeper at number three, followed by the skipper, and Dilshan sandwiched between the two Chamaras.

In the final analysis, underestimating this young Indian team would definitely not be my 'cuppa coffee', yet it would be difficult to count Sri Lanka as anything but favourites to win this series.