Sri Lanka’s record in India suggests that the tourists will face a tough task. The bulk of responsibility for scoring runs is likely to fall on the usual suspects, who have in the past made huge scores on benign pitches but struggled in difficult conditions. As for the bowlers, only Murali has a strong track record in India, so the others will need to step up if the side are to succeed. Herath should edge out Mendis for the second spin slot, although the latter’s magical showing against the same opposition last year may inspire his inclusion at some stage.
For the hosts, Zaheer Khan’s return (along with Sreesanth) should revitalise the pace attack, whilst a chief concern could be adjusting back to Test cricket after more than six months of limited-overs matches. The lack of Test matches has been picked up on by the man of the hour, and many of the players in the side may take some time to realign their approaches.
South Africa have always been the nearly men of 50-over cricket, but they did win the Champions Trophy back in 1998, since when they have developed a reputation as big tournament bottlers. This is South Africa’s best chance in years to win some ICC silverware, as well as to cast off the ‘chokers‘ tag.
Sri Lanka could be dark horses, with Dilshan‘s firepower matched by the steadying hands of veterans Jayasuriya, Jayawardene and captain Sangakkara. The return of Murali and the recent form of the pace attack will worry opposing batsmen, but the side will need to take a step up to taste glory.
England, having been humiliated in the ODI series against Australia, and without their two best limited overs players in Flintoff and Pietersen, will do well to win a match. The batsmen seem to fail whenever the bowlers succeed and vice versa, so expectations, it’s fair to say, will be easy to live up (or down) to.
India, having very briefly ascended to the top of the ICC ODI rankings after yesterday’s victory over New Zealand, came crashing back down to earth as they were crushed by Sri Lanka in Colombo, with the home side being bowled out for a mere 168, 140 runs short of their target for victory.
Sri Lanka’s 2-0 series win over New Zealand now means that, if things don’t work out for South Africa against South Africa B England this winter, Kumar Sangakkara’s side could potentially end the year as the world’s top-ranked team if they win the series in India. If India were to win the series 2-0, then they would take the top spot.
India’s home record against Sri Lanka is impressive, with the tourists never having won a Test, but the side which is likely to tour will be very strong indeed. The emergence of Rangana Herath as a genuine spin threat in the series against the Black Caps means that there’s less dependence on Murali to constantly take wickets (which is handy, given Ajantha Mendis’ struggles), whilst the batting order has looked assured.
I’m not sure Tillakaratne Dilshan has fully grasped the concept of what an opening Test batsmen is supposed to do. Filling the role for the first time in the First Test against New Zealand, he ‘steadied the ship’ after Sri Lanka had lost two early wickets by hitting 92 from 72 balls, including the fastest ever Test fifty by a Sri Lankan.
It’s difficult to imagine many other Test openers reacting with in quite such an aggressive approach (certainly not any of England or New Zealand’s openers). Whilst it could be argued that Dilshan was playing high-risk cricket to a degree which is often unsuitable for the longer format, his positivity certainly turned the match in his side’s favour (from 16/2 to 134/3).
Who knows? Test Cricket may just need more crazy openers – what price Afridi to open for Pakistan?