The ODI series starts tomorrow with conditions looking pretty good for cricket. The pitch is said to be firm in good shape and these types of conditions can suit any team. So far the Sri Lankan pitches have played pretty well. The usual definition of a good pitch is one which does not get worn out easily and offers something for batsmen, pacers and spinners too. It appears the pitches in this series have been made to facilitate pace bowling early on- this is seen commonly now in international cricket but Sri Lankans would have definitely planned for the pitch to produce some spin because of the M&M effect.
Currently Sri Lanka are no 7 in the world rankings in ODI’s, although in Test cricket they are placed at no 4, just below India. However it is interesting to see that Sri Lanka have the same rating as 6th placed England, but in terms of points they are about 100 points behind. The past couple of years have not been great for Sri Lanka in ODI cricket. Like India, they have also seen a sustained improvement in the longer version of the game but in ODI’s they are also inconsistent and unpredictable. This alone makes predicting who will win this series, very difficult as both sides are mercurial. The Indians are ranked 4th in ODI’s whereas Pakistan ranked 5th, are only 2 rating points behind India (Pakistan, having benefited from beating minnow sides over the past year).
Going into the first match, Sehwag appears doubtful to play because of his twisted ankle, although this affliction is only expected to prevent him from playing the first match. This is a considerable blow to the Indian camp as Sehwag has been a consistent performer this year for India along with Gambhir. This year Sehwag has averaged 45 in ODI’s along with a strike rate of 125. In terms of batting average and strike rate, so far 2008 has been the best year in his illustrious career.
Gambhir, though, has been in splendid form and will most certainly be playing. India will heavily rely on the pair of Sehwag and Gambhir if they are to win this series convincingly. India will be hoping Gambhir gets going tomorrow so that Sehwag’s presence is not felt. The key middle order batsmen are Dhoni and Yuvraj. Whereas consistency is expected from Dhoni, Yuvraj’s haphazard form will make the Indian fans somewhat anxious. Yuvraj did, however, score a commanding 172 in 121 balls in the recent practice match which India won by a decent margin. Suresh Raina deserves a mention too as someone who can turn the tide in favour of India as he was imperious in the recent Asia Cup, being the second highest run getter.
From the bowling side, the Indian think tank is doing the right thing by advocating 5 specialist bowlers to play in the XI (it somewhat helps India that Irfan Pathan can bat lower down the order). Harbhajan will look to carry on his recent admirable form, and Zaheer Khan also looked consistent with line and length recently. In the pace department India appear to have the edge with the experienced Pathan and Zaheer. Sri Lanka are going with one experienced and renowned pacer, Vaas, but what Sri Lanka have which India lack, are Murali and Mendis.
Mendis was the Man of the Series in the Test series and although the Indians have studied him extensively, there still appears to be a gap in their knowledge about his doosra and his flipper. It goes without saying Sri Lanka’s main bowlers in this series and Murali and Mendis although Vaas as always will contribute to an extent. Most commentators have already predicted that the result of this series will depend on how well (or badly) the Indians play Mendis and Murali.
Hence an interesting series looms ahead, with both sides being quite evenly matched it seems. Whereas India have been in good form overall in the past two years, they did look underconfident in the Test series against Mendis and Murali. Sri Lanka do carry the psychological advantage at the moment because of this M&M effect. Nevertheless, the Indian team has a chance to make amends for what happened in the Test series and Dhoni and his men will look to convince their fans that India is still a formidable side in world cricket.