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Indians looking to maintain the momentum

S. Ram Mahesh

  • The hard pitch is expected to be full of runs
  • Sanath Jayasuriya's failure has had interesting spin-offs
  • History favours the side batting second

    MIDAS TOUCH: Skipper Rahul Dravid has done everything right and his side is on the verge of clinching the series. — Photo: S. Subramanium

    Pune: "You think every time I bowl I should get 10 or 15 wickets?" asked an incredulous Muttiah Muralitharan in response to whether he has been disappointed with his performance in the seven-match series so far. India will want to tighten its grip on an enfeebled throat, and finish the series off in the fourth ODI at the Nehru Stadium here on Thursday.

    Down 0-3, Sri Lanka must win to keep the series alive. It's an indication of how well the Indian batsmen have played that Muralitharan has been limited to three wickets in three matches. Usually `Mr. Rubber Wrist' and his flunkies — low-slung slow bowlers of all kinds — succeed in generating an atmosphere of cloistral confusion.

    Sri Lanka's bowling strategy has consisted of winkling out a couple early through Chaminda Vaas's in-nip before letting the lesser twirlers strangle batsmen unsure of how much to attack. Muralitharan would continue to take wickets, further drying up runs and stoking the coals of indecision.

    While the off-spin great is still accorded respect — Rahul Dravid asked M.S. Dhoni to take singles off him in Jaipur and not do anything silly — the rest have wilted against an uber-aggressive batting line-up.

    Sanath Jayasuriya's injured shoulder has prevented him from bowling in the series thus far and has, as he said on Wednesday, "affected my batting a little bit." But he rolled his shoulder over during practice and skipper Marvan Atapattu said he should be able to bowl. The crabby left-armer's over-the-wicket-into-leg-stump angle gives the Sri Lankans a defensive option more sound than Upul Chandana's leg-spin and Tillakaratne Dilshan's off-spin.

    Jayasuriya's failure as mauler batter has had interesting spin-offs. One, it has ensured an early momentum shift, exposing the middle-order. Two, it has deprived Sri Lanka of his experience in the middle overs, allowing Harbhajan Singh to control that phase. Three, it has increased the pressure on Kumara Sangakkara, who now must make all Sri Lanka's runs and take all its catches. Four, it has allowed Indian skipper Dravid to choose the timing of his Power Plays and use them as attacking gambits.

    Swatted and squelched like a bothersome mosquito in the first two games, the visiting side thought it had done enough in Jaipur. "Last game I would say we did 99 per cent right," said Atapattu. "Then Dhoni whacked us. When a player of his calibre gets going, it's tough." While the Sri Lankans have chosen to look at the innings as a one-off and not beat their heads up over the loss, such a knock can sink a team. It tells a side its best isn't enough.

    Suspect middle-order

    Minus Mahela Jayawardene, who flew out to Colombo for his wedding and will be back before the fifth ODI at Ahmedabad on November 6, the Sri Lankan middle-order looks thin. The stylish right-hander made 71 in 70 balls in Jaipur and, in Sangakkara's company, kick-started the innings. Left-hander Upul Tharanga or middle-order batsman Thilan Samaraweera will fill in.

    "If you start pointing fingers at non-performers, I'll point a finger at me," said Atapattu whose fortunes both with the bat and as captain have contrasted with his counterpart's. "When things are rosy, you can do anything and it seems to work."

    Tendulkar not to be rested

    India has few problems. "One (sic) of the things we are very conscious of are the energy levels and the nervous system," said coach Greg Chappell. "So we find a way to give them a break, if not from the match then from that particular role.

    "There is no move to rest Tendulkar. As long as he's fit and well, he would play. We missed his presence in Sri Lanka,'' Chappell said when asked whether there were plans to rest Tendulkar.

    Dravid had said after Jaipur that it was crucial to forget about the wins and concentrate on preparing for the next match to ward off complacency. The only area of concern, he said, was the bowling in the last 20 overs where "we allowed them to run away with it."

    The pitch is hard and has the look of one compacted by a lot of rolling. "Has some grass," said Atapattu. "Good track full of runs," remarked Dravid. It's expected to have a bit of moisture early because of morning dew. India has won both its matches against Sri Lanka on this ground and history favours the side batting second.

    Kaif declared fit

    Mohammad Kaif has been declared fit by Indian physio John Gloster, media manager Wing Commander M. Baladitya said. "He was monitored on all parameters and found fit," said Baladitya. "He'll be taking part in the Duleep Trophy."

    The teams (from):

    India: Rahul Dravid (capt.), Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Venugopala Rao, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, J.P. Yadav, Irfan Pathan, Ajit Agarkar, S. Sreesanth, Harbhajan Singh and Murali Kartik.

    Sri Lanka: Marvan Atapattu (capt.), Sanath Jayasuriya, Kumara Sangakkara, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Thilan Samaraweera, Russel Arnold, Upul Chandana, Chaminda Vaas, Muttiah Muralitharan, Nuwan Zoysa, Farveez Maharoof, Dilhara Fernando, Dilhara Lokuhettige and Upul Tharanga.

    Umpires: A.V. Jayaprakash (India) and Billy Bowden (New Zealand);

    Third umpire: I. Sivaram (India); Match referee: Alan Hurst.

    Hours of play: 9 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. and 1.15 p.m. till close.

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