The Indian team faces a test of character here on Saturday. With Sri Lanka a win away from sweeping the two-match Twenty20 series, the host needs to tighten its cricket. The Indian flair has to be backed by sound fundamentals and common sense. But then, fitness concerns ahead of the second game have made India's job harder. Paceman Santhakumaran Sreesanth and batsman Rohit Sharma have been virtually ruled out. Sreesanth has still not recovered from a viral fever. Rohit, who hurt his shoulder while diving to regain crease in Nagpur, will miss out as well.
Sreesanth could have relished bowling here. There could be some juice in the pitch and the evening dew at this time of the year could assist movement off the surface.
Left-arm spin bowling all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja has been drafted into the side. Jadeja might figure in the eleven since his bowling is better suited to the shorter formats; he also adds batting depth to the line-up. Crucially, Jadeja, a livewire, could lift the levels of Indian fielding.
Dinesh Karthik, a busy cricketer, is also in with a chance. He is a shot-maker with slick hands and moves swiftly on the park. India lacked the fire and the drive on the field in the first game. Catches were spilled, run-out opportunities squandered and extra runs conceded through misfields.
The quality of Indian fielding and catching adversely impacted the bowling. Lapses on the field relieve the pressure created by the bowlers.
However, India's defeat on Wednesday was not about its ordinary cricket alone. At crucial moments, Sri Lanka seized momentum and control. Captain Kumar Sangakkara was at the heart of it all.
Sangakkara is an engaging personality and cricketer. He reads the flow of a game well and is swift with his response.
The left-hander was in awesome form in Nagpur, piercing the field with a surgeon's precision, striking the ball long, hard and straight, and harnessing its pace for strokes behind the wicket. While Sangakkara is technically sound, he is also inventive.
He led his side with imagination, shifting his fielders around, signalling his bowlers to change angles, and having his finger on the pulse of the game.
None responded better to the Sri Lankan skipper's call than the ageless Sanath Jayasuriya. He is still lithe, still moves like a cat.
Jayasuriya's niggardly left-arm spin with subtle alterations in length and the point of release – he bowled superbly from both round and over the wicket – put the Indian batsmen under considerable stress.
Jayasuriya essentially fires in his left-arm spin from a touch wide off the crease not allowing the batsmen to get under the ball for the big hits.
Sri Lanka had other heroes in Nagpur. Chamara Kapugedara's belief as he waded into the Indian bowling was striking. While he always possessed the ability – Kapugedara is a natural hitter of the ball – his cricket has suffered in the past from self doubts. And someone like the intrepid and innovative Tillakaratne Dilshan can inflict considerable damage; he did dent the Indian bowling early on in Nagpur before Sangakkara assumed centre-stage.
Sri Lanka is likely to rest ace off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, still nursing injured ligaments on his bowling fingers. While the anticipated bounce in the surface might suit Ajantha Mendis, the Sri Lankan team-management might not expose the spinner to the Twenty20 format when his confidence is down.
Lasith Malinga, the slinger who can swing the ball viciously, will be a distinct threat for the Indian batsmen in these conditions. Much hinges on how he bowls in the middle and the end overs.
India might try to revamp its attack. Lanky off-spinner R. Ashwin might receive a look-in since he can cramp the batsmen for room. India cannot afford to lose control in the vital middle phase where a game can change course.
The match will be a big occasion for birthday boy Yuvraj Singh. He could deliver the big blows on his home ground.
The teams: India (from): M.S. Dhoni (captain), V. Sehwag, G. Gambhir, S. Raina, Y. Singh, R. Jadeja, D. Karthik, Y. Pathan, A. Nehra, I. Sharma, S. Tyagi, R. Ashwin, A. Dinda, P. Ojha. Sri Lanka (from): K. Sangakkara (captain), T. Dilshan, S. Jayasuriya, M. Jayawardene, C. Kapugedara, A. Mathews, C. Jayasinghe, M. Pushpakumara, N. Kulasekara, L. Malinga, D. Fernando, C. Welegedara, A. Mendis, K. Weeraratne, M. Muralitharan.
Match starts at 5.30 pm.