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India has to re-discover its winning edge

S. Dinakar
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CRICKET / Will a senior be rested is the moot point with Sehwag expected to helm the side

SLINGING SENSATION:Lasith Malinga, capable of unleashing toe-crushing yorkers at will, will be a clear and present danger to the Indians in the crucial match at the 'Gabba on Tuesday.— PHOTO: AP
SLINGING SENSATION:Lasith Malinga, capable of unleashing toe-crushing yorkers at will, will be a clear and present danger to the Indians in the crucial match at the 'Gabba on Tuesday.— PHOTO: AP

India faces a test of character at the 'Gabba here on Tuesday. Will adversity stoke the side's combative instincts?

Without its captain and its most influential batsman in the climactic stages, the side has to re-discover the winning edge against Sri Lanka in a crucial Commonwealth Bank ODI.

Dhoni being suspended from the game for the side's slow over-rate was bad news for India. Now, the side meets a rejuvenated Sri Lankan team that could be high on morale after routing Australia in Sydney.

Virender Sehwag, who missed the last two games due to back spasm, is expected to be fit to lead India. In case, he does not recover, the mantle could fall on Gautam Gambhir.

It remains to be seen whether India continues with its rotation policy of senior batsmen under these circumstances. Dhoni has made it open that playing all three — Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Gambhir — in the same eleven would cost the side at least 20 runs in fielding.

Wicketkeeper-batsman Parthiv Patel, who opens in ODIs, may take one of the three places in the top-order.

If you go by the rotation policy, this could be Tendulkar's turn to be rested. The great batsman was given a torrid time by the Aussie quicks here on Sunday. He was struck on the helmet by a lifting delivery from Brett Lee but should be all right, from a fitness perspective, for Tuesday's game.

Tendulkar, who has only 68 runs from four matches at an average of 17 in the series, is struggling to find his rhythm. To be fair to him, he did make a crisp 48 against Sri Lanka in Perth before he sat out of a game due to the rotation policy and lost his fluency on return.

India will have a new captain for this game and the eleven will be his call. If Sehwag is fit to lead, he may want all three seniors to play, considering the absence of an in-form Dhoni will leave a hole in the batting.

Youngsters disappoint

While plenty of focus has been on the seniors, the youngsters have largely disappointed. Rohit Sharma has 79 runs from five matches at 15.8 and Suresh Raina, 102 from five innings at 20.4. One of them could miss out if another senior batsman is roped in. Rohit, who needs to tighten his technique, appears more vulnerable.

There is also the possibility of Manoj Tiwary — he made a century in his last ODI, against the West Indies in Chennai — getting a look-in. At this stage the composition of the Indian batting appears flexible.

Off-spinner R. Ashwin has contained and struck against the Sri Lankans and he could make the cut at the expense of a paceman or left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja. He is also capable with the bat.

India will hope that pacemen Zaheer Khan and Vinay Kumar make a complete recovery from bouts of cramps. Umesh Yadav remains the paceman best suited for the bouncy surface at the 'Gabba while Irfan Pathan, who has chipped in with the ball and the bat, might hold on to his place. The Indian pacemen need to run in with aggression and hit the pitch hard. The surface here often rewards a very direct form of pace bowling.

The Sri Lankans will not be short of belief after blowing away Australia by eight wickets at Sydney.

Skipper Mahela Jayawardene finding his touch while opening the innings is excellent news for Sri Lanka. Tillakaratne Dilshan struck the ball with the confidence of old and Kumar Sangakkara impressed during his brief stay at the SCG.

Five-man pace attack

Sri Lanka is expected to continue playing five pacemen. Thisara Perera, Angelo Mathews and Farveez Maharoof are all-rounders; a factor that lends more versatility to the side.

Lasith Malinga, despite fluctuations in form, could be a clear and present danger. And Nuwan Kulasekara, who can cut the ball both ways, could find the pitch to his liking. As the lone specialist spinner, crafty left-armer Rangana Herath brings much to the eleven.

The Sri Lankan pacemen operated with verve at the SCG — there was seam movement, swing and the creation of angles — and the islanders' fielding, despite blemishes, is more athletic than that of India.

Chasing under the lights can often be tricky here but then spells of rain have been forecast for Tuesday. The captain winning the toss needs to weigh his options.

The teams (from): India: Virender Sehwag (captain, likely), G. Gambhir, S. Tendulkar, V. Kohli, S. Raina, P. Patel, I. Pathan, R. Ashwin, Z. Khan, V. Kumar, U. Yadav, R. Jadeja, Rohit Sharma, M. Tiwary, P. Kumar and Rahul Sharma.

Sri Lanka: M. Jayawardene (captain), T. Dilshan, K. Sangakkara, D. Chandimal, L. Thirimanne, A. Mathews, T. Perera, F. Maharoof, R. Herath, N. Kulasekara, L. Malinga, D. Prasad, S. Senanayake and U. Tharanga.

Match starts at 8.50 a.m. IST .

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