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By Tapan Mohanta
Fatullah (Bangladesh): Feb 27, 2014
Their battered pride regained after snapping an eight One-Day International (ODI) winless streak, five-time champions India will look to build a winning momentum when they take on Sri Lanka in what could by their first real test in the Asia Cup at Fatullah on Friday.
India notched up a six-wicket win against hosts Bangladesh in their opening match of the five-nation regional tournament on Wednesday but their real test begins on Friday against the Lankans who had beaten defending champions Pakistan by 12 runs.
Back on the familiar subcontinental conditions after humiliating series defeats in South Africa and New Zealand, India chased down 280 at the Khan Shaheb Osman Ali Stadium to register their first win in nine ODIs.
Kohli’s tremendous form in Bangladesh which now reads 868 runs from 10 matches with an astounding average of 124, including his career-best 183 in last Asia Cup, will put India a favourite to win the tournament despite recent overseas reverses.
That the talented middle order batsman Rahane shook off a string of failures in New Zealand where he totalled 51 from five ODIs would mean India’s middle order would be settled before the two key clashes — against Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
As India’s progression into the final will hinge on the results of the two key clashes, Kohli’s men do not have the luxury to relax.
Kohli had got a reprieve on 35 as Bangladesh failed to grab their share of chances. The skipper’s cheap dismissal would have certainly exposed the new-look Indian middle order in their chase of 280 and could have tilted the match the other way.
Against a Sri Lankan team that boasts of the fiery Lasith Malinga, who is fresh from his match-winning five-for against Pakistan, the Indian opening duo would be desperate to get back among runs to give their side a solid start.
Especially, Dhawan’s listless batting and his weakness to short balls has begun to bother the Indian think-tank as time is fast running out for the left-hander to deliver.
Dhawan should take inspiration from the way Rahane shrugged off a prolonged lean patch in one-day format.
Against Bangladesh, India fielded an unchanged XI that played against New Zealand apart from the obvious inclusion of wicketkeeper Dinesh Karthik in place of injured Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and left out Cheteshwar Pujara.
Ambati Rayudu was picked ahead of Pujara, considered by many as a Test specialist batsman who has been included in the one-day squad with the 2015 World Cup in mind.
But, in a crucial match like against Sri Lanka, it would be interesting to see whether skipper Kohli will gamble bringing in Pujara or retain the winning XI.
As for bowling, Varun Aaron was the biggest let down as his sheer pace never troubled the Bangladeshi batsmen duo of Mushfiqur Rahim and Anamul Haque who posted a century stand to help their team pile 279 for seven.
Aaron’s length was easily picked by the Bangla batsmen as he conceded 74 runs from 7.5 overs before being barred after bowling two waist high deliveries.
It will invite risk to stick with Aaron against Sri Lanka who boast of the likes of in-form batsmen Kumar Sangakkara and opener Lahiru Thirimanne.
Having arrived in the country late January for a full series, Sri Lanka have been experiencing an extended taste of Bangladeshi conditions as they won the Test series 1-0, the Twenty20s 2-0 before a 3-0 sweep in the one-dayers.
But in their Asia Cup opener yesterday, Sri Lanka had some jittery moments when Pakistan looked to be in control of the 297-run chase, needing 55 from 46 balls with six wickets in hand.
It was, however, before Malinga single-handedly changed the complexion of the game with his toe-crushing yorkers. He went for six-plus an over after his first seven overs but came back with four wickets in his last three overs to turn the game in his side’s favour in the death overs.
But his inability to trouble the top-order would once again come under scrutiny as he takes on the Indian batsmen.
Sri Lankan batting will have the calming influence of Sangakkara who is in the middle of a dream run here that includes his his maiden triple century in Tests.
Sangakkara scored a half-century against Pakistan yesterday but it was their young opener Thirimanne who impressed with a fluent century. Thirimanne has been backed by the selectors to open instead of seniormost Mahela Jayawardene.
Thirimanne was fluent from the outset and had a strike rate of 92.72. For a batsman who has spent much of the past two months sidelined with injury, Thirimanne was as stoic as he was confident.
In Kusal Perera, who scored a maiden ODI century in Sri Lanka’s 3-0 win against Bangladesh the other day, Thirimanne will have a perfect partner as the duo will look to give their side a perfect start.
Coming from a finger injury earlier this month, seniormost Jayawardene, who batted at number four yesterday, would like to get among runs too.
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