Sri Lanka v India
Fifth One Day International, Colombo, August 29th, 1000 GMT
Preview by John Pennington
Mendis and Murali have been tamed. Sri Lanka's much-vaunted top order has been kept deathly quiet by India's pace trio of Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel and Praveen Kumar. Mahendra Singh Dhoni has won the battle of captains over Mahela Jaywardene by winning crucial tosses and leading by example. And so, we arrive at Colombo for the final match of the Idea Cup with the series already decided in India's favour and for the first time ever in a bilateral series between the two sides in Sri Lanka, no less.
It has been an impressive comeback from India, who were hammered by eight wickets in the opening match in Dambulla and while Sri Lanka may point to the difference the likes of Farveez Maharoof and Lasith Malinga might have made, India have been without Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar. Honours even in terms of perssonel, not so on the pitch.
With nothing left to play but personal pride, and a motorbike for the man who hits most sixes in the series and a car for the man of the series, both teams may be tempted to make a few changes and experiment.
India may be more tempted than Sri Lanka after Dhoni and Suresh Raina appeared to be severely discomforted during their innings in the previous match but there are no obvious replacements for the form players in the side.
Parthiv Patel is India's reserve wicket-keeper and no mean batsman but having rested himself from the Test series, it would seem unlikely that Dhoni would need, or want, another break so soon afterwards. And as for Raina, the road back to the side has been a long and hard one and he should play, if only because those around him in the middle order, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma and Subramaniam Badrinath, have not shown the consistency or form required from them.
India may decide instead to keep the same line up but experiment with the order - perhaps by pushing Badrinath or Sharma up the order and giving them longer to construct an innings they may get the best out of them.
Then there is Irfan Pathan, who cannot get into the side at the moment but with India playing four specialist bowlers at the moment, they are taking a risk. Unless early breakthroughs come, batting sides will take advantage of having ten overs from the part-timers and on current form, Pathan is worth his place in the side as much as a Badrinath, or even a Yuvraj, although the vice-captaincy should safeguard his place.
When Sehwag and Tendulkar come back, it will give the selectors some headaches as Virat Kohli has burst onto the scene and looked the business while Gautam Gambhir, although in the midst of a poor run of form, is a classy player and when he scores big, India usually win. Four into two doesn't go, but India will be delighted with the strength in depth this series has unearthed.
Sri Lanka, meanwhile, will be disappointed to have lost their second ODI series at home in a row. Sanath Jayasuriya and Jayawardene are the only batsmen who have really impressed but their problems in the One Day arena have been thinly disguised - they lost in the West Indies last year and there are only so many times a team can come back from losing five or more wickets in the Power Play overs.
That has been the problem against India and the only positive it has thrown up is that Thilan Thushara, who has frequently been thrown in with his side in trouble, has proved that he is a capable batsman, and given a chance could develop into an all-rounder, much like England's Stuart Broad.
Thushara's five-wicket haul in the fourth match was well deserved and at least signalled to Sri Lanka that their bowling stocks are healthy - with Malinga, Maharoof and Dilhara Fernando back the selectors will have a problem equal to India's at the top of their order.
As for Mendis and Muralitharan, they have not become bad players overnight, more that India have seen a lot of them in the last two months both in the flesh and on video and have got used to them. Mendis now faces the first test of his career, one which his elder off-spinner has passed many times, to see if he can respond to teams getting the better of him.
Sri Lanka reacted to the batting failures in the last game by axeing Chamara Silva and replacing him with Malinda Warnapura. Warnapura took a couple of smart catches but his 18-ball duck brought back memories of Michael Vandort, also a Test specialist, with Sri Lanka under pressure two years ago.
Mahela Udawatte is in the squad and might come in to replace Warnapura, unless the selectors decide that one game and then being dropped is too harsh while all-rounders Kaushalya Weeraratne and Jehan Mubarak have as yet been untried and might get a game should Sri Lanka wish to send a message to their underperforming stars.
There is also the strong possibility that India, with the series win in the bag, will take their foot off the gas and allow Sri Lanka to take a consolation win - just as England did last year, but if they keep playing to the standards that they have done in the series, regardless of who they pick, they won't do so unless Sri Lanka show a marked improvement.
© Cricket World 2008