With the series level at 1-1, India and Sri Lanka will have plenty at stake as they lock horns at Cuttack. Whoever clinches the game will become favourites to win the series, as the other side will have to come out victorious in the final two games to end on top, a rather improbable proposition if you go by history. For one, Sri Lanka will go into the match believing they can upset the Indian applecart once again. This after their magnificent chases in both the games played so far. India may have won the Rajkot battle, but it was undoubtedly Lanka who won more hearts, coming tantalizingly close, chasing over 400.
While the Indian batting has been in awesome form, they still need to figure out a way to utilize the powerplays when Virender Sehwag falls early, like it happened in Nagpur. India clearly lost out on a few runs because of his dismissal, which made a huge difference in the end. And though Virat Kohli did a good job coming up the order, Sunil Gavaskar’s suggestion that MS Dhoni should come up at number three in such situations must be implemented. This is only in hindsight, but it’s a point to ponder upon that had Dhoni come in earlier India could have notched up a bigger total, which could have made a significant difference.
Sadly for the Indians, this strategy cannot be implemented in the next two games as the Indian captain has been banned for the team’s slow-over rate. It goes without saying that Dhoni’s services as batsman, keeper as well as skipper will be missed dearly. However, there is no point in losing sleep over it. The Indians must instead focus on how to get their act right at Cuttack. For a start, Dinesh Karthik is not a bad replacement for Dhoni as keeper batsman. He has been in such situations before and has more often than not done a commendable job. India would be hoping Karthik delivers in the next two games as well.
In Dhoni’s absence, Sehwag will take over the mantle of captaincy. India will be hoping that the additional pressure doesn’t affect his batsmanship. The one positive for India might be the inclusion of Yuvraj Singh, which should definitely shore up the batting order in Dhoni’s absence. However, they have bigger worries to sort out, none more than their bowling in the first half of their innings and their so oft mentioned atrocious fielding efforts. While Zaheer Khan’s lapses in the field weren’t entirely responsible for India’s loss at Nagpur, they were symptomatic of the team’s performance in the field, which has been ragged from the time Lanka arrived in India.
The visitors themselves have a few problems of their own. After Muttiah Muralitharan and Dilhara Fernando, their Man Friday Angelo Mathews will now miss the remainder of the series following the injury he picked up during his match-winning knock at Nagpur. Their middle-order too needs to bat with a lot more responsibility so that the efforts of the top three – Tharanga, Dilshan and Sangakkara – don’t go in vain. All in all, yet another closely fought contest in the offing.
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