| Muttiah Muralidharan attends nets in Colombo on Monday before leaving for Kandy to join his family in mourning following the death of his grandfather
Colombo: It’s official: Offie-wizard Muttiah Muralidharan will not take the field against India in what, for the visitors, has become the latest do-or-die match.
Murali lost his paternal grandfather (a ‘centurion’, by the way) in hometown Kandy, early on Monday, and though he attended nets, it was taken for granted he won’t be “in a proper frame of mind” for Tuesday’s game. The funeral, one learns, is scheduled for Wednesday.
Late at night, Sri Lankan manager Air Commodore Ajith Jayasekara confirmed that Murali won’t be around. “In fact, after a discussion with the team management, he left for Kandy to join the family which is in mourning,” Jayasekara informed. Murali was particularly close to the grandfather.
Not that India must depend on such off-the-field developments for a straight win to make the August 1 final — Sri Lanka are already there — but Murali’s absence is bound to help. Moreover, a flu has ruled out top speedster Chaminda Vaas.
“We know what’s expected of us and have been in such situations... From experience I can say that, when cornered, this team bounces back... We played poorly yesterday, but have decided to draw inspiration from the last two years and not get affected by two results,” is how captain Sourav Ganguly summed up the mood.
Besides the one versus Pakistan, India lost the phase-I match to Sri Lanka (in Dambulla, by 12 runs).
While Sourav appeared to have recovered from Sunday’s crushing 59-run defeat, speaking exclusively, he confessed he didn’t exactly have an answer for the big loss.
“If I knew, we wouldn’t have been outplayed... We had a poor game against Sri Lanka too... We’ve got to improve, or else, we are going to go home sooner than expected,” he said typically bluntly.
If India fail to get five points — the bonus isn’t needed — Pakistan’s passage to the final will be assured as they face Bangladesh in this IndianOil-sponsored tournament’s last phase-II match. At the very least, Inzamam-ul Haq and Co. should steamroll them.
Significantly, without saying so in as many words, Sri Lankan captain Maravan Atapattu indicated he would prefer facing Pakistan in the final. However, in this competition, the hosts have beaten both India and Pakistan (by seven wickets).
“We’re going to pick the best available XI,” is how Atapattu reacted when asked to comment on having to do without both Vaas and Murali.
According to The Telegraph’s sources, the Indian thinktank has decided on going back to the four specialist bowlers strategy and, therefore, Parthiv Patel will feature in the XI.
Zaheer Khan is making a comeback (with Lakshmipathy Balaji out) and the one other certainty is Irfan Pathan. Ashish Nehra is going to be retained if a solitary spinner is picked.
Till late, though, it wasn’t clear who will sit out if just one spinner can be accommodated. Anil Kumble has the experience, but isn’t the best mover on the field, while Harbhajan Singh bowled reasonably well versus Pakistan.
As in the past, if it comes to choosing, it’s going to be a tough call for the captain.
It will be tougher, for Team India, if even an all-guns-blazing approach isn’t good enough. After all, this is the start of a big season and faltering isn’t going to be viewed very charitably.
India (likely): Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammed Kaif, Parthiv Patel, Irfan Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Anil Kumble, Zaheer Khan. Note: If three quicks are to be fielded, then one of the spinners will be dropped in favour of Ashish Nehra.
Sri Lanka: Maravan Atapattu, Upul Chandana, Tillekeratne Dilshan, Avishka Gunawardene, Saman Jayantha, Sanath Jayasuriya, Mahela Jayawardene, Thilina Kandamby, Farveez Maharoof, Lasith Malinga, Kumar Sangakkara, Nuwan Zoysa.
Umpires: David Shepherd, Billy Doctrove.
Match Referee: Mike Procter.