Sri Lanka win toss, elect to bat
Saturday is Poya, the full-moon day. Entire Sri Lanka comes to a standstill on Poya day. Streets are deserted, offices and banks closed and most shopping establishments keep their shutters down.
But this Poya is a bit different -- there is a lot of activity, at least in the hotel lobbies, as hordes of supporters from India have arrived to see their team play yet another final, when they take on the hosts in the title clash of Asia Cup at the Premadasa Stadium here on Sunday.
The silence on the streets is an illusion. A storm is already brewing. On the face of things, Sri Lanka look way ahead in the reckoning. Though India won the last game, much of it was due to some inexplicable lethargy of several host batsmen, and a blasphemous shot by Jayasuriya. They needed 17 off 17 when Jayasuriya, totally in control, played a skier that was not warranted.
In the league game at Dambulla on July 18 too, India had run the hosts close, going down by 12 runs.
One remarkable thing is that this is the first time since the first league game of the tournament that India have a full-strength squad to choose from. Laxman was injured before the league game against Sri Lanka and did not play, and then had to miss second round games against Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Zaheer was not available against Bangladesh, and though he passed the fitness test, he too sat out the Pakistan game.
There is little doubt that Laxman will make the XI, if there are no more surprises in terms of injuries, replacing Parthiv Patel. It is the bowling combination that leaves Ganguly and Wright with a poser. India played two seamers and two spinners against Sri Lanka, and that worked. In any case, playing three left-arm seamers in Zaheer, Pathan and Nehra is an unlikely deal. And Balaji's confidence must be shattered after the hammering he got against Pakistan.
Furthermore, the part time spinners have performed well. Tendulkar is the second-highest wicket-taker in the tournament with 10 scalps. Sehwag has also chipped in with vital wickets, and his efforts in the previous game must have given him tremendous confidence.
So it may not be a surprise if the team goes in with two specialist spinners and two medium-pacers. But that would depend on how the pitch looks in the afternoon, as Ganguly observed. The skipper does not dismiss the idea of three left-arm seamers, but that really would be too much of a good thing. If it is going to be three seamers, better to play Balaji, just for variety.
In terms of batting, almost all the players have had a knock, and got decent scores, but a good opening stand is still missing. Dravid began well, then faded away a bit, while for Ganguly, the promotion to one-drop has worked wonders. One person who has done his job almost unnoticed is Yuvraj. He scored 47 when we lost to Sri Lanka, and then hit a half-century when we won. It is symptomatic of Yuvraj's importance to the side that India win almost regularly when he goes past 50. Here is one man in good form, though one sincerely hopes he does not have to bat. Time the top order put it past the opposition.
As for Sri Lanka, Jayasuriya's return to form is good news, but they would be asking themselves how they lost last time around. Atapattu and Sangakkara looked pedestrian, and Jayawardene also did not impress. The only man to provide support to Jayasuriya was Tillakaratne Dilshan.
Muralitharan and Vaas will get back into the fray, while Zoysa, who pulled up with a niggle in the game against India, looks to be fit. But that really does not make that much of a difference, since Muralitharan and Vaas have to be at their best form here. In fact, it is Zoysa who has done most of the damage.
In any case, Saman Jayantha and Lasith Malinga are almost certain to make way for Muralitharan and Vaas. The impressive Farveez Maharoof should retain his spot in the seam attack.
Premadasa is a straight 'win toss and bat' ground. Out of 39 day-night games, the team batting first has won 25 times, and that is a big statistic. Nothing new there though, since even here, the team batting second has almost always come to grief, unless of course they are chasing poor totals. Chasing anything beyond 275 is a big ask, as we have seen.