Youthful India take on wary Sri Lankans
Rahul Dravid would be hoping that all the recent unsavoury off-field happenings are pushed to the back-burner and his new role as captain begins on a successful note when India take on Sri Lanka in the first Limited Overs International at the VCA Ground on Tuesday.
With the men from Emerald Isle making their first full-fledged visit of India -- in two parts -- in seven years and the hosts going through a transition phase, the lung opener of the seven-match series should see the two rivals wary and sizing up each other like two long-lost adversaries.
But the last contest between the two -- held in the island nation just a couple of months earlier -- is too recent in memory for the two to approach the match with anything less than full vigour.
It's a sort of revenge series for India, who have been struggling for long to get their act together in the shortened form of the game except for convincing wins over the minnows of the cricket world, after having lost the tri-series final to the Lankans at Colombo a few months ago.
The home advantage is with India, the huge plus of playing in front of their own fanatic supporters who would be thronging all the venues and giving vociferous support, as also the pitch conditions and weather.
But Dravid, coach Greg Chappell and the rest of the team would be under-estimating the Lankans at their own peril as the visitors are capable of fighting till the last ball, with the depth in both batting and bowling that they possess.
Dravid would be hoping that the arrival of a newborn son and playing in his wife's home town bring all the luck he needs against the Lanka Lions.
Tremendous responsibility rests on the shoulders of Dravid, not only as captain but also the man around whom the innings would revolve.
The Indian batting, in the absence of the Sourav Ganguly, Mohd Kaif and V V S Laxman for different reasons, looks a bit thin on experience but has got back in its ranks the redoubtable Sachin Tendulkar whose mere presence in the team would itself be capable of lifting the spirits.
Dravid, the Indian batsman with the highest number of runs at this ground with a century to boot, would have to play the sheet-anchor's role for strokemakers like Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and the flashy Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Tendulkar, returning from a lengthy lay-off due to an elbow injury and coming into the contest on the back of just three domestic one-day ties in the Challenger series, will play the role of mentor for youngsters like Venugopala Rao, Suresh Raina and Sreesanth.
Rao and Raina, who have been part of the Indian team since the tri-series in Lanka, could not have got a better man to teach them the ropes of international cricket than the great Tendulkar.
The absence of some senior cricketers has given them another fine chance to establish themselves. Rao seems to hold an edge to get into the squad tomorrow following his superb show in the Challenger Series at Mohali.
All eyes would be on Sreesanth, the young Kerala medium pacer who has forced his way into the team through his eye-catching efforts in the Challenger event.
He would be up against the free-stroking Lanka batsmen on a generally batsman-friendly ground which has seen three ODI totals in excess of 300 having been scored in the past.
It's a big series for Sehwag too whose one-day form has looked patchy, at best, in recent times.
It would be interesting to see how well India take advantage of the super sub experimental rule in home conditions as well as the power play rule which would be seen in action for the first time at home.
Lanka, on the other hand, have a more experienced line-up but their poor record in India, eight wins and 17 losses against the hosts including one in Nagpur on their last visit for the Pepsi Cup triangular in 1999, gives the two teams a 50-50 chance in the series.
There's a question mark over Lanka's premier batsman Sanath Jayasuriya, whose freak shoulder injury is yet to heal completely as was shown during their warm-up one-day tie in Mumbai when he had to retire as a recautionary measure after experiencing some pain while batting.
The Lankan management sounded confident that he would definitely play in Tuesday's tie, but the master blaster would have his role restricted to batting and would not be called upon to bowl his effective slow left arm stuff.
The Lankans have a fine all-rounder in the making in Farveez Maharoof who showed he can really smash the ball when scoring an ebullient 64 against the MCA President's XI in the warm-up tie a couple of days ago.
Chaminda Vaas and Muthiah Muralitharan, both rested in the warm-up tie, are likely to pose real threats to the Indian batsmen with their guile and experience and can expect good support from the likes of Nuwan Zoysa and Upul Chandana, both near certainty for the opener.
The teams (from):
India: Rahul Dravid (captain), Virender Sehwag (vice-captain), Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Venugopala Rao, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), Harbhajan Singh, Irfan Pathan, Ajit Agarkar, Suresh Raina, Gautam Gambhir, Jai Prakash Yadav, S Sreesanth, Murali Kartik and Rudra Pratap Singh.
Sri Lanka: Marvan Atapattu (captain), Sanath Jayasuriya, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Mahela Jayawardene, Tillekaratne Dilshan, Russel Arnold, Chaminda Vaas, Upul Chandana, Thilan Samaraweera, Farveez Maharoof, Muthiah Muralitharan, Dilhara Fernando, Nuwan Zoysa, Dilhara Lokuhettige and Upul Tharanga.
Umpires: Billy Bowden (NZ) and K Hariharan (Ind).
Third umpire: I Shivram (Ind).
Match referee: Alan Hurst (Aus).
Hours of play: 9 am to 12.30 pm; 1.10 to 4.40 pm.