S. Ram Mahesh
Will need to muster the resilience coach Greg Chappell speaks so highly of
Port of Spain: Forgive the contrived coinage, but Friday is India's day of reckoning.
It could, with some luck, be a magical sun-scrubbed day; a day when the depressing defeat to Bangladesh is interred, and fresh, fragrant dreams of semifinal spots are born.
Or, it could be funereal India's last day at the 2007 World Cup. A day W.H. Auden's poem "Stop all the clocks" offers sombre support even as travel plans and dreams once promising the world, now useless are trampled underfoot.
Perhaps the metaphor is a touch overdone, for in the context of what's unfolding in Kingston, this is just a game.
The position is as follows: India cannot afford a loss. A tie or a washed-out game keeps the dream alive in the realm of technicalities; a win all but cinches both a place in the Super Eight and two crucial carry-over points.
Sri Lanka has done India a considerable favour by comprehensively defeating Bangladesh on Wednesday. Had Bangladesh shocked Sri Lanka, India would have still had to beat Sri Lanka to make the next stage but, it would have gone through carrying over no points.
With the 198-run defeat (Duckworth-Lewis method), Bangladesh's Net Run Rate has fallen to -2.002. Despite the advantage of playing the last Group B match against lowly Bermuda on Sunday, Bangladesh will need a freak performance to pip India.
Sri Lanka is extremely serious about Friday's match and it goes beyond the team's stated purpose of treating every match with unmitigated intensity.
The last thing Sri Lanka wants having started so barn-stormingly well is to lose the crunch match.
"It's a big game because it will decide which team takes two points to the next round," said Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene. "These points are very important, and the way we have played, we think we deserve them. So, we will be pushing ourselves." If Jayawardene's side plays as well as it did on Wednesday, India will need to muster every last bit of the resilience its coach Greg Chappell speaks so highly of.
Chappell's assertion is backed by evidence: given up for dead on many an occasion after the debilitating series in Zimbabwe or the Test series loss to Pakistan or the one-day reverses in the West Indies and in South Africa Rahul Dravid's side has managed to revive itself. That it hasn't always sustained the revival is another matter. But, bloody-mindedness strange that it's used with India often fights a losing battle against supreme all-round skill. Asked to compare India and Sri Lanka, Bangladesh captain Habibul Bashar said, "Both are champion sides. India is a very good batting side; Sri Lanka has better all-round strength."
Dravid said before the first match that some sides are batter balanced than others, but balance isn't the all-determining factor. It's an interesting point. That there is more than one way to win a cricket match is what makes it so fascinating often the best way, even if it's short-sighted, is to play unabashedly to your strengths.
India's strength lies in batting. India's bowling may have won the odd low-scoring match against West Indies in Malaysia and in Cuttack for instance but the batting line-up is the side's bread-winner. It is this line-up, however, that landed India in trouble against Bangladesh by being tentative and not making the requisite runs.
The signs against Bermuda were encouraging. That India made 413 was not as important as how it made 413. India's game-breakers Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, and M.S. Dhoni acquitted themselves well. Among the bankers, Dravid's tenure was too short for judgement and Sachin Tendulkar was an unqualified success; Sourav Ganguly, however, wasn't entirely convincing. But, the fact that he has made two half-centuries in two games bodes well.
Jayawardene chose to downplay India's recent success against his side saying the victories came in familiar conditions at home; a counterpoint of similarly dubious logic is that India has defeated Sri Lanka in its previous two World Cup games in distant England and unfamiliar South Africa.
The teams (from):
India: Rahul Dravid (capt.), Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag, Robin Uthappa, Yuvraj Singh, M.S. Dhoni (wk), Dinesh Karthik, Ajit Agarkar, Munaf Patel, Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, Anil Kumble, Irfan Pathan and S. Sreesanth.
Sri Lanka: Mahela Jayawardene (capt.), Russel Arnold, Marvan Atapattu, Malinga Bandara, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Dilhara Fernando, Sanath Jayasuriya, Nuwan Kulasekara, Farveez Maharoof, Lasith Malinga, Muttiah Muralitharan, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Chamara Silva, Upul Tharanga, and Chaminda Vaas.
Umpires: Aleem Dar and Daryl Harper. Third umpire: Steve Davis. Match referee: Jeff Crowe.
Hours of play (IST): 7 p.m. to 10.30 p.m. and 11.15 p.m. till close.