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Swift overhaul need of the hour

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READY FOR THE FRAY: With Virender Sehwag not having recovered from his injury, S. Badrinath may figure in the Indian scheme of things in the second ODI on Wednesday.
READY FOR THE FRAY: With Virender Sehwag not having recovered from his injury, S. Badrinath may figure in the Indian scheme of things in the second ODI on Wednesday.

S. Ram Mahesh

Injured Sehwag leaves Sri Lanka; Badrinath may get a look in

Dambulla: Enfeebled and embarrassed, India needs to effect a swift overhaul in the second ODI here on Wednesday if it is to retain realistic thoughts of winning the ongoing five-match series.

Monday’s eight-wicket defeat, in essence a batting failure, was brought about by a combination of the conditions, the discipline Sri Lanka’s bowlers embraced, and the absence of Virender Sehwag.

Excellent pitch

Come Wednesday, and the conditions are unlikely to have changed. The strip for the first ODI here at the Rangiri Dambulla Stadium was an excellent cricket wicket. The breeze across the open ground added to the contest.

The conditions kept the quicker bowlers — be they exponents of seam, swing, or bounce — interested all day; the spinners were given a fair hearing, for there was just enough turn and sufficient bounce; the batsmen found it more taxing than usual, but by no means was it a horror to bat on — indeed, skilful strokeplay received its just desserts.

Strips on the same wicket square tend to behave alike. Unless the grass on the pitch for Wednesday’s game is cropped closely, it can be expected, within reason, to play like its cousin from Monday.

Sehwag’s absence isn’t changing either. Sadly for India, the opener — such a crucial component not just for the runs he makes, but also the manner in which he makes them — left Sri Lanka with a sprained ankle on Tuesday.

Much depended on Gautam Gambhir and Sehwag before the first ODI. They showed in the Test series that the combine of Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis could be attacked.

But with Sehwag missing, and Gambhir dismissed in the first over, the Indian middle was ripe for the picking when Mendis was brought on in the first ODI. And here we approach the nub of the matter.

Although the efforts of Chaminda Vaas and Nuwan Kulasekara can’t be discounted — they struck the early blows, reducing India to 41 for three — it was Mendis’s dismissals of Yuvraj Singh and M.S. Dhoni that broke India’s back.

Few cricketers have lived up to hype as sensationally as the 23-year-old mystery spinner. “In one-day cricket it is not only about playing him, and surviving,” said Dhoni, the Indian captain. “You need to score runs as well.”

Mystery spinner

Mendis’s first six overs, of which three were maidens, went for just 10 — six of them from one Yuvraj stroke. Dhoni made an interesting point on why Mendis was so difficult to score quickly off: not only was he difficult to read out of the hand, he was difficult to attack off the pitch, for the pace he bowled at (often between 90 and 100 kmph) left little time for decisions.

“We have to find a way by which we can rotate the strike, if we can’t play big shots,” said Dhoni. “Perhaps take singles off him and Murali, and look to attack the others because you have got to have something on the board. You can’t score 180 or 200 and look to defend that.”

Mahela Jayawardene, the Sri Lankan captain, reckoned 225 was competitive, 250 potentially match-winning. But how does India get that far? Dhoni hinted at a change in composition. He can go one of many ways, either changing the personnel, or changing the roles they play.

With Sehwag’s departure, Dhoni might reason that the batting could do with the security of another batsman instead of the fifth bowler. S. Badrinath, one of the 10 who attended Tuesday’s optional nets under coach Gary Kirsten, will be in the reckoning in that case.

The spot of Gambhir’s opening partner is an area of concern. The 19-year-old Virat Kohli has looked ill at ease against the new ball in his two outings on tour, and understandably so, for he bats in the middle order for Delhi. He deserves the opportunity to make a fist of it, but Dhoni will have to weigh against that the cost of hurting Kohli’s development.

For a while Dhoni and New India could do no wrong. Their vitality and fearlessness in big battles was stirring. In the midst of a most severe test, they need to summon their best; it’s another matter that there’s the chance it might not be enough.

The sides (from): Sri Lanka: Mahela Jayawardene (Capt.), Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Sanath Jayasuriya, Mahela Udawatte, Chamara Silva, Chamara Kapugedera, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Malinda Warnapura, Jehan Mubarak, Chaminda Vaas, Muttiah Muralitharan, Dilhara Fernando, Ajantha Mendis, Thilan Thushara and Nuwan Kulasekara.

India: M.S. Dhoni (Capt. & wk), Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, S. Badrinath, Virat Kohli, Parthiv Patel, Irfan Pathan, Praveen Kumar, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, R.P. Singh, Munaf Patel, and Pragyan Ojha.

Umpires: Billy Doctrove and Asoka de Silva; Television umpire: Gamini Silva; Match referee: Chris Broad.

Hours of Play (IST): 10 a.m. to 1.30 p.m., and 2.15 p.m. till 5.45 p.m.

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