Anirudh Suresh
14 Jan 2023 | 09:52 AM

With series sealed, India look to keep momentum rolling ahead of New Zealand ODIs

Clichéd as it may sound, all that’s at stake for the young Sri Lankan side, led by Dasun Shanaka, is pride

Having named a full-strength squad, Rohit Sharma’s India entered the three-match series against Sri Lanka as overwhelming favorites, and on Thursday in Kolkata, the Men in Blue got the job done as they took an unassailable 2-0 lead to pocket yet another bilateral series win at home — their 15th since the start of 2013, with their last series defeat coming nearly four years ago.

The contest at the Eden went tighter than India wanted and anticipated, due to a few hiccups with the bat, but crucially, the hosts kept their cool and got over the line.

As a result, the third and final ODI at the Greenfield International Stadium in Thiruvananthapuram will be all but a dead rubber, but it goes without saying that India still will be eyeing a victory — subsequently whitewashing Sri Lanka — to keep the momentum going ahead of the tougher test that lies ahead of them next week, a three-match series against a well-organized New Zealand side. 

Clichéd as it may sound, with the series not being a part of the ODI Super League, all that’s at stake for the young Sri Lankan side, led by Dasun Shanaka, is pride. The visitors had their moments in the second ODI on Thursday but unfortunately weren’t able to capitalize; the inexperience showed. What could so easily have been a series-leveling victory turned into a lesson.

The turnaround is quick, but it’ll be imperative for Shanaka & Co. to believe that they have it in them to register a win, deny India a whitewash and leave the tour on a high. 

Things to watch out for 

Has Rohit changed his ODI template?

For the longest time, Rohit Sharma the ODI batter’s template had been the following: be cautious up-front, take plenty of time to get in and then tear into the bowling after settling. During his peak years, seldom did Rohit go bang bang against the new ball on a consistent basis. 

However, since the start of last year, things seem to have taken a curious turn. Across his last 10 ODI innings, Rohit has been striking at 105.3 in his first 20 balls. And no, these numbers have not been skewed by a couple of innings — in 8 of these 10 innings, he’s struck at over 85.00 in his first 20 balls.

To give some context, in 52 ODI innings between 2018 and 2021, Rohit struck at just 67.7 in his first 20 balls, scoring at SR over 85.00 in just 34% of the innings (18/52). Even if we were to consider only the games he played at home (more batter-friendly wickets), the strike rate jumps to just 71.4. 

Too early to speculate anything, of course, but it’ll be curious to see how Rohit goes about his business in the third ODI. Especially given it’s expected to be more bowler-friendly than both Kolkata and Guwahati. 

Siraj’s nip-backers vs Sri Lanka’s top-order

Mohammed Siraj has taken 22 wickets in ODIs against right-handers since the start of last year and his single-biggest weapon has been the nip-backer: the ball coming back in has accounted for a staggering 63.63% of his wickets. 

Through the nip-backer, he got the wicket of Kusal Mendis in the first ODI and once again in the second game, an identical delivery was what provided India with the huge breakthrough of Avishka Fernando, who’d got off to a flyer and had the Indian seamers sweating for a bit. 

Come the third ODI for the RHB-heavy Lankan top-order, the biggest threat will once again be the balls that comes into them, from the hand of Siraj. Since the start of last year, 68.75% of Siraj’s wickets in the powerplay against right-handers have been achieved through the ball coming back into them. 

Pitch and conditions 

The Greenfield International Stadium in Thiruvananthapuram is notorious for, well, being green. Only one ODI has been played at the venue — back in 2018 — and that saw the Windies get bowled out for 104. 

More recently, in September last year, India and South Africa locked horns in a T20I and that was a pacer’s paradise: 9 of the 10 wickets to fall in the contest (in which SA posted 106/8 and India chased it down with extreme difficulty) fell to the seamers and at one point, South Africa were 9/5 after Arshdeep and Chahar wreaked havoc with the new ball. 

The average first-innings score in List A cricket at this venue since 2018 is 201, further suggesting that the wicket is one made for the bowlers. 

Tactical Nous

Playing his first match of the tour, Lahiru Kumara caused plenty of problems for the Indian batters when he banged the ball into a good length. Kumara bowled 15 balls in the 6m-8m mark and drew a staggering 46.6% false shots, while also accounting for the wicket of Kohli. That he was still taken apart for 64 runs off his 9.2 overs was down to his inconsistency and inaccuracy. There will certainly be plenty of juice on offer in Thiruvananthapuram; we could be in for multiple fun battles should Kumara find his length in the third ODI.

Sri Lanka could potentially look at promoting Wanindu Hasaranga, who has been outstanding versus spin in this tour: he’s faced 28 balls and has amassed 56 runs off them, smashing four fours and five sixes in total. In fact, in ODIs since 2021, Hasaranga is averaging 36.17 against spin while striking at 127.7.  However, what stands as a barrier to that move is the presence of Umran Malik. In this tour, Hasaranga has been dismissed by Umran in ⅗ matches, including in the second ODI. He’s simply been blown away by the tearway’s pace. That being said, given Hasaranga has been all but wasted down the order, it might not be a bad ploy on Sri Lanka’s part to try batting him at No.4 or No.5. 

Probable XIs

Outside of a potential rest for Mohammed Shami (and perhaps Hardik Pandya), it is unlikely that India will be making changes to their starting XI. Expect Kuldeep to retain his spot even if Chahal is fit to start.

India: Rohit Sharma (c), Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer, KL Rahul (wk), Hardik Pandya/Washington Sundar, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Umran Malik, Mohammed Siraj, Arshdeep Singh.

Given how ineffective young Dunith Wellalage has been with the ball — 0/77 off 12 overs across two matches — it won’t be a surprise if the visitors decide to play the more experienced Maheesh Theekshana in his place. 

Sri Lanka: Nuwanidu Fernando, Avishka Fernando, Kusal Mendis (wk), Charith Asalanka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Dasun Shanaka (c), Wanindu Hasaranga, Chamika Karunaratne, Maheesh Theekshana, Lahiru Kumara, Kasun Rajitha.

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