India and Sri Lanka have had numerous battles over the last few years. As such, it will be like another day at work when the two teams clash yet again, in the second semi-final of the Champions Trophy at Cardiff on Thursday. It is common knowledge among fans that India have had the better of their Asian opponents in recent times, and hence they will go into the semis clash high on confidence. But, Sri Lanka themselves are battle-hardened cricketers, and will be keen to show that they are as good as the Indians.
As always, India would be heavily banking on their openers, Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, the former in particular. Dhawan has been in exceptional form throughout the league games, but it has been witnessed in the past that players who perform exceedingly well in the earlier matches fail in the must-win games – basically a case of law of averages catching up with the player. India would be hoping that Dhawan carries on his great form since the middle and lower-order haven’t spent much time out in the middle owing to his brilliance. If Dhawan and Sharma can give India another good start, they would automatically be on top.
Dinesh Karthik is another batsman from whom the team has high hopes. The Tamil Nadu batsman began with a bang, notching up two centuries in the warm-up games. Then, in the actual tournament, he scored a fluent half-century and West Indies, and was at the crease when India got home against Pakistan. Karthik has looked comfortable out in the middle. It remains to be seen whether he can get the big score if and when needed. Virat Kohli has only played cameos, but his stupendous record against the semi-final opponents will fire him up. Although the middle-order hasn’t been exposed, Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni will be expected to rise to the occasion if and when needed.
Bowling is the bigger worry for India. Everyone contributed against Pakistan, but there were definite danger signs versus South Africa and West Indies. Even though Ishant Sharma is their most experienced pace bowler, he hasn’t been at his best even since taking over the mantle of lead bowler. His death over bowling has been particularly shabby. Same has been the case with Umesh Yadav, who has been unacceptably expensive. Of all the bowlers, it has been Bhuvneshwar Kumar who has impressed most with line and length and has been rewarded suitably. Meanwhile, the expectations are high from Ravindra Jadeja with both bat and ball.
Among the major threats for India will be old foes Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, both of whom have played themselves into form with a stunning innings each. Further, opener Tillakartane Dilshan scores runs against the Indians by default, so he is another player India must be wary of. If skipper Angelo Mathews performs to potential, he will also trouble India. The one area where India can expose Lanka is in the bowling. Lasith Malinga has been superb against other sides, but has often faltered against India. If the Indians can overcome Malinga and Nuwan Kulasekara, the rest shouldn’t cause much trouble to them.
--By A Cricket Analyst