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Battling batting blues

Dambulla: There’s little more to be seen and felt than cricket when teams are touring this part of Sri Lanka.

Not just the fascinating lush, dense jungle with Ibbankatuwa lake flanking the stadium on one side but also the Dambulla rock, rising majestically in the distance on the other.

With bats flitting around the Kandalama Hotel corridors, monkeys stealing fruits from the players’ rooms, snakes lurking in the undergrowth, the occasional elephant joyride, this venue could be a wild life enthusiast’s delight.

The Indians, though, have no time for such luxury. Virender Sehwag and the seamers may have provided the team with a spring in their steps in their last match — a lifeline in their quest of winning the Micromax Cup — but there are further bottlenecks that are bound to give Mahendra Singh Dhoni sleepless nights.

The failure of the young brigade, specifically the second-rung batsmen, has come as an eye opener in the build-up to the World Cup.

Their inability to adapt to slightly alien conditions and counter the swing and movement has forced the team management to introspect and take a fresh look.

The opening combination has struggled right through with Dinesh Karthik’s ploy to walk down the pitch to negate the swing not working. More so as the wicketkeepers are standing up. The result is a highest opening stand of 39 in four matches.

Rohit Sharma averages a little above 20 in his last ten innings and Virat Kohli has failed to make use of the limited opportunities. New Test sensation Suresh Raina’s attempt to buck the trend has proved futile.

The result has been an enormous pressure on the middle-order resulting in two humiliating losses. This was supposed to be an opportunity for them to stand up and be counted, but sadly, has only portrayed Indian cricket in poor light.

India’s victories have been achieved in matches in which Sehwag has scored 99 not out and 110. The colossus of India’s batting, in Sachin Tendulkar’s absence, will have to successfully re-ignite his form to harbour Indian hopes in the final on Saturday.

The fit-again Yuvraj Singh hasn’t really struck form in a big way, but glimpses of his regaining touch were visible in their last league match against Sri Lanka.

The Indians will stick to their four-pronged pace attack combination which paid rich dividends against New Zealand. The windy and slightly cloudy conditions, no doubt, will work to their advantage but it will be a matter of sticking to the basics.

The Indians are toying with the idea of playing an extra batsman at the expense of the woefully out-of-form Ravindra Jadeja. The idea is to strengthen the batting as Sehwag will perform the duties of a specialist spinner.

An option could be giving an inexperienced Saurabh Tiwary a break but whether the team management would take such a bold step remains to be seen. Ditto for Dhoni promoting himself in the batting order.

The Indians practised on pitches alongside the main square and not on the practice wickets located in another section of the stadium complex. Dhoni had an extended session before taking out Raina for a pep talk.

That the Indians regained the Asia Cup at this very venue a couple of months back and have also won a triangular and the last two bilateral series in Sri Lanka should add to their confidence. But as Sangakkara said, “it’s going to be a new day.”

Given the bad blood that has been generated between these two sides in the tournament, their skill and talent, no doubt, will be tested to the hilt on Saturday.

However hard both captains may try to play it down, the raging acrimony that has been generated over the Sehwag-Suraj Randiv spat, might just boil over.

Will India’s fragile top and middle-order click? Will the Lankans be able to successfully plot Sehwag’s early dismissal despite frustratingly finding the Indian vice-captain one step ahead in the earlier games? Will the seamers deliver a second time? Can Praveen Kumar replicate his mastery of providing early breakthroughs?

Only if luck and fortune work in Dhoni’s favour yet again, the Indians will be able to forget the potential pitfalls of this tournament.

TEAMS

India (likely): Dinesh Karthik, Virender Sehwag, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja/Rohit Sharma/Saurabh Tiwary, Praveen Kumar, Ashish Nehra, Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel.

Sri Lanka (likely): Tillekaratne Dilshan, Upul Tharanga, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Angelo Mathews, Chamara Silva, Chamara Kapugedera, Thisara Perera, Suraj Randiv, Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga.

Umpires: Asad Rauf and Asoka de Silva

Match starts: 2.30 pm (IST)

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