Almost. Sri Lanka almost broke their incessant streak of defeats against India in bilateral series. They almost won a match after seven defeats across formats. They almost kept themselves alive in a series. If you still don’t understand how disheartening the loss was, you just needed to look at the grimace on their head coach, Mickey Arthur’s face in the final moments of the second ODI.
India showed their might in the opening ODI and then exhibited their depth in the second to pull of a memorable win for their new generation of cricketers. The question now is, will they do it again? They played an unchanged side in the first two matches. Now, do they give the ones on the bench a chance to display their skills?
The final ODI is now a dead rubber and India is expected to make some changes. For Sri Lanka, a broader context lies in the 2023 World Cup Qualification. They are placed 12th in the 13-team World Super League table and in desperate need of a win as their hopes of a direct qualification hang by a thin thread. To make matters worse, they have been docked one point for slow-over rate in the second match.
Change in bowling personnel
While India have built a top-notch bowling attack for Test cricket, their ghosts with the ball in ODIs have resurfaced. Since 2020, India are the only side to have a runs-per-innings ratio in excess of 300 - 304.9 - with the ball. It is a consequence of flat tracks in the format but the Indian pacers have simply surrendered to the trend. A big reason has been their ineffectiveness with the new ball.
The Indian pacers have not picked a wicket in the first 10 overs this series. Since 2020, they average 158.8 runs per wicket in the first 10 overs, easily the worst, while leaking runs at an economy of 5.9. They have constantly fed the opposition with good starts. In modern-day cricket, it is a hard task to pull things back with the ball.
A number of bowlers have bowled for India in this phase without much success. The latest pair of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Deepak Chahar has struggled as well. Both are similar kind of bowlers. They rest heavily on lateral movement which has been absent at the R. Premadasa Stadium. They operate in the low 130s which further reduces the challenge for the batsmen.
Instead of waiting for the spinners to provide the first breakthrough, India need to make changes in that department. They have Navdeep Saini and Chetan Sakariya on the bench. Sakariya offers the left-arm angle but Saini brings the much-needed ingredient: pace. The right-arm seamer has had a torrid time over the last few months. However, a long break can be helpful and India will hope he is at his best again.
Whom does he replace? Knowing Bhuvneshwar’s prime importance lies in T20 cricket given the upcoming World Cup, he might be rested to stay in better shape for the three-match T20I series. India will lack a death bowler in his absence but it's not that Bhuvneshwar is setting things on fire.
Who else is in line?
There are still a number of performers on the bench who deserve a spot in the XI. Both Ruturaj Gaikwad and Devdutt Padikkal would want to play but it is tough to see the team management rest either one of Prithvi Shaw or Shikhar Dhawan. Similarly, Sanju Samson has been firing all guns blazing in the practice session but it is tough to see him break into the XI as yet.
Before arrival, Rahul Dravid, India’s head coach for the tour stated that it would be unrealistic to provide everyone a chance and one can now see why. After all, it is not a five-match series.
Do Sri Lanka have anything to trouble India? Yes.
Barring the 2017 Champions Trophy encounter, Sri Lanka have twice come close to dismantling India. The common factor on both occasions was the use of leg-spin bowling. In the second ODI in 2017, Akila Danajaya’s 6/54 had India slid from 109/0 to 131/7, before MS Dhoni and Bhuvneshwar Kumar saw the chase through. In the second ODI on Tuesday, it was Wanindu Hasaranga’s spell that brought crucial wickets for the hosts.
India have mediocre numbers against leg-break bowling in ODIs since 2020, if not the worst. Amongst all bowling types, their batsmen average the least against leg-spinners, some of them being Adam Zampa, Adil Rashid and Ish Sodhi. It makes a compelling case for Akila’s return to partner Hasaranga, ahead of Lakshan Sandakan who struggled for control in the previous match.
Sri Lanka: Avishka Fernando, Minod Bhanuka (wk), Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Dhananjaya de Silva, Charith Asalanka, Dasun Shanaka (c), Wanindu Hasaranga, Chamika Karunaratne, Kasun Rajitha, Dushmantha Chameera, Lakshan Sandakan/Akila Dananjaya
India: Shikhar Dhawan (c), Prithvi Shaw, Ishan Kishan (wk), Manish Pandey, Suryakumar Yadav, Hardik Pandya, Krunal Pandya, Deepak Chahar, Navdeep Saini, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav.