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Viru worry amid Mendis talk

cricket Updated: Aug 17, 2008 23:32 IST
Anand Vasu
Anand Vasu
Hindustan Times
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India suffered a major shock on the eve of their first ODI, against Sri Lanka, at the Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium, when Virender Sehwag sprained his ankle towards the end of fielding practice.

By late on Sunday the opening batsman had not yet been ruled out, but there were serious doubts over whether he would be fit in time for the Monday morning start, resulting in speculation over whether Virat Kohli would make his debut.

Till news of the Sehwag injury trickled through, all talk centred around Ajantha Mendis. It has reached that point where captains from both teams are tired of answering questions about him. For Mahela Jayawardene the problem has been one of looking for positives outside of Mendis as loaded questions invariably end up making the mystery spinner the centre of Sri Lanka's renaissance.

For Mahendra Singh Dhoni, journalists's queries zoom in on what the batsmen have done by way of preparation to counter the Mendis threat. While the irritation of captains is understandable, it's an undeniable fact that Mendis is still the fulcrum around which interest and curiosity, and perhaps even victory and defeat, work around.

Monday will provide a fresh glimpse of whether international cricket's latest wonder boy can continue his dominant run. If India lose Sehwag it will be a serious blow to their chances, but Gautam Gambhir and new faces thereafter have an opportunity to show that Mendis is not unplayable. Certainly the scars of the Asia Cup final - where Mendis picked up six for 13, will not have healed yet.

India's young batsmen have the ability to hit the ball long and hard, often with little respect to bowler's reputations. It is a team that believes in itself regardless of how the day has dawned. Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma and Dhoni, are batsmen who carry no baggage, often fall playing absurdly attacking shots, and essentially have nothing to lose. If they can carry this mindset into the matches, and that is easier said than done, they just might able to hurt Mendis (and let's not forget Muttiah Muralitharan) before he hurts them.

If Sri Lanka are sure about who their main weapons will be, uncertainty still looms over the combination they will choose. Jayawardene's affinity to having the extra fast bowling option in the mix has been thwarted by injury to Farveez Maharoof. With the selectors picking a glut of batsmen in the XV and overlooking Kaushal Weeraratne, Jayawardene might opt to play three medium-pacers in Chaminda Vaas, Thilan Thushara and Nuwan Kulasekara if he does not want to bolster the batting.

India seem closer to arriving on a set combination with Dhoni indicating that they would play six batsmen and five bowlers, with the bowlers further being divided into three quicks and two spinners. Pragyan Ojha will share tweaking duties with Harbhajan Singh, and there are enough part-timers to chip in, should the need arise. Zaheer Khan and Irfan Pathan are the first two to book places, with Munaf Patel likely to join them.

If the weather stays as it is, hot and dry, and the pitch is true, the series could just get off to a flying start.

Teams (from): India: Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Irfan Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Pragyan Ojha, Munaf Patel, RP Singh, Praveen Kumar, Virat Kohli, S Badrinath, Parthiv Patel.

Sri Lanka: Sanath Jayasuriya, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene (capt), Chamara Kapugedara, Chamara Silva, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Nuwan Kulasekara, Chaminda Vaas, Thilan Thushara, Ajantha Mendis, Muttiah Muralitharan, Jehan Mubarak, Dilhara Fernando, Mahela Udawatte, Malinda Warnapura.

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