| Sanath Jayasuriya watches his team during nets at the Wanderers Sunday. Despite a bruised left forearm and a chipped bone in his thumb, Jayasuriya will play in the crucial match against India Monday. (Reuters)
Johannesburg: One way of looking at Monday’s India versus Sri Lanka Super Six match is that it’s a quarter final for Sourav Ganguly’s team. A defeat, though, will not send India out of the World Cup; victory will seal a semi-final berth.
In fact, the Lankans have much more to lose. Coach Dav Whatmore, however, is convinced even a defeat won’t totally ruin chances of making the round-of-four. But, yes, he acknowledged it would be much easier if full points (four) were taken off India.
That, of course, is easier said than done.
It was learnt late Sunday that an unfit Hashan Tillekeratne will be replaced by Jehan Mubarak, while Prabath Nissanka will take Pulasthi Gunaratne’s place.
The Indians have peaked at quite the right time and five successive wins is creditable in any tournament, more so in the showpiece event. Conceding that, Sri Lankan captain Sanath Jayasuriya said with a hint of envy: “They’ve been steadily improving... They’ve been getting stronger.”
Jayasuriya, incidentally, is set to play even though he insisted he was only “80 per cent” fit. It’s a huge game for Lanka and, really, it’s inconceivable that Jayasuriya won’t figure in the line-up. In any case, well-placed sources have confirmed he will take the field.
Not doing so will, in effect, be gifting psychological territory.
Assuming the Jayasuriya issue is resolved, Lanka’s top worry then is Mahela Jayawardene’s form. He wasn’t required to bat in two matches, but his highest in the remaining five is a mere nine (against the West Indies).
Yet, the thinktank will be persisting with him — reason being he is a big occasion performer and could come good at a most critical moment in Lanka’s 2003 campaign.
India have a somewhat similar problem, with Virender Sehwag managing a best of 36 (versus Zimbabwe) in seven games. “I’ve spoken to him, one-to-one, and conveyed he must build on every start. For example, he has got into the 20s four times,” Sourav told The Telegraph.
While the Indians will field the XI which beat Kenya at Newlands, the Lankan side may see two changes. Hashan Tillekeratne has a hamstring problem and, if he isn’t fit, will have to make way for Jehan Mubarak. Then, there’s talk that quick Pulasthi Gunaratne could be replaced by Prabath Nissanka.
Even if there’s a change, the Lankans will be relying on the in-form Chaminda Vaas and Dilhara ‘Express’ Fernando to try and ‘soften’ the Indians. Only, it’s to be seen whether one of them or the wily Muttiah Muralidharan will make the biggest impact.
The Wanderers is known to help the quicker bowlers and, so, even Ashish Nehra may make an excellent impression. He has been bowling superbly and appears more hungry than Zaheer Khan. The pick, however, has been veteran Jawagal Srinath.
While the captains feel the team which plays better over the 100 overs will take the honours, the first 15 of each innings should make the biggest difference. Indeed, the match will be won and lost there.
Meanwhile, it rained rather heavily Sunday, after the teams completed their workout, but the forecast only speaks of “cloudy conditions”. That’s some relief as nobody would like the elements to spoil yet another India-Lanka game.
INDIA: Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly, Mohammed Kaif, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Dinesh Mongia, Harbhajan Singh, Jawagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra.
SRI LANKA: Sanath Jayasuriya, Maravan Atapattu, Jehan Mubarak, Mahela Jayawardene, Aravinda de Silva, Russel Arnold, Kumar Sangakkara, Chaminda Vaas, Muttiah Muralidharan, Dilhara Fernando, Prabath Nissanka.
Umpires: David Shepherd, Simon Taufel.
Third umpire: Daryl Harper
Match Referee: Clive Lloyd.
Match starts: 1.30 pm (IST).