PORT-OF-SPAIN – Following West Indies’ disastrous showing on home soil that led to their elimination, India and Sri Lanka will meet for the 56th time in the last five years in the final of the Tri-Nation series at the Queen’s Park Oval in Trinidad and Tobago tomorrow.
This would be a repeat of the World Cup final in Mumbai back in 2011 and while the stakes now would obviously not be that high, it would be a good opportunity for Sri Lanka to take revenge. So often have these teams met that it would do to have some spice around an encounter that could turn away the fiercest supporters.
MS Dhoni is likely to be back for the final. India were forced to bring their A game to the table over the last two matches after being pushed on the back foot first by the disappointing West Indies and then Sri Lanka last week.
Things were not looking too bright for India, who had just won the Champions Trophy and when Dhoni was ruled out of the tournament and Virat Kohli made to huff and puff in his first full match as captain, the writing seemed to be on the wall. Fatigue was the buzzword as editors started reasoning India’s abject surrender in that outing against Sri Lanka. Come Trinidad and fortunes changed again.
Kohli’s maiden ton as skipper and Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s sensational spell that knocked the stuffing out of the Sri Lankans ensured India had reached another final. No mean achievement that, given the frequent rain interruptions and the absence of their regular captain and the best batsman in the side.
And when Dhoni was seen in the warm-ups in the innings break yesterday, Indian supporters would have heaved a collective sigh of relief. The stand-in captain did indicate that Dhoni could be fit for the title clash at the toss on Tuesday.
India have generally had the better of Sri Lanka in their recent meetings but with both teams bound to be jaded (Sri Lanka were on the field for three days on the trot), the final may not exactly be a repeat of the well-contested epic at the Wankhede on April 2, 2011.
Virat Kohli looked good during his 31, following up on a breathtaking 102 while Rohit Sharma was solid at the top for the second game on the trot but also missed out on yet another half-century, stranded on 48 not out. All the rain in Port-of-Spain seemed to have done Bhuvneshwar Kumar a lot of good. He was brilliant against the Windies and against Sri Lanka, his swingers blew their top-half away. Kumar returned figures of 4 for 8 as India annihilated the Sri Lankans to storm into the final.
It would be unfair to bring Suresh Raina up again because he did not get a chance to fight his way back to form. However lack of runs and enough time in the middle is bound to be a cause for concern. Murali Vijay may not be as big a headache, for he will make way if Dhoni returns.
Sri Lanka have had a mix tournament so far and they would be a confused lot. An opening defeat to the West Indies notwithstanding, they did well to bounce back with convincing victories against India and the hosts. However, their third consecutive day on the park took its toll and the batting crashed in the face of some outstanding bowling from Kumar, Ishant Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja.
Motivating themselves against a team they have met so often and lost so often to may not be difficult given this is the final of a tri-series. Those defeats in the World Cup final and the Champions Trophy semi-final should rankle and Angelo Mathews should be able to get the best out of his men, even though they are a tired lot.
Sri Lanka have rode on some fine innings by their seniors. Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara have been good and they need no extra invitation to be on top of the Indian attack. The Indian attack would be wary of Upul Tharanga too, whose 174 left their young bowlers dazed. Mathews has been in fine form too and if the Big 3 fire with some help from the Lankan seamers in overcast conditions, the Islanders would be a dangerous unit.
The Sri Lankan middle-order have hardly had a hit in the middle and the batting collapse against India would be worrying the think-tank. Fatigue or not, rain interruption or not, an abject surrender of that sort would have no place in tomorrow’s final which starts at 9.30 a.m.
Teams: India: Virat Kohli (capt), Ravichandran Ashwin, Shikhar Dhawan, Ravindra Jadeja, Dinesh Karthik, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Amit Mishra, Mohammed Shami Ahmed, Suresh Raina, Ishant Sharma, Rohit Sharma, Murali Vijay, Vinay Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Ambati Rayudu, Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews (capt), Kusal Perera, Upul Tharanga, Kumar Sangakkara, Lahiru Thirimanne, Mahela Jayawardene, Jeevan Mendis, Ajantha Mendis, Dinesh Chandimal, Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga, Sachithra Senanayake, Rangana Herath, Dilhara Lokuhettige and Shaminda Eranga.