Grilled left to right, Team India set to run into islanders

The contest against the men from the Emerald Island presents an opportunity to enhance obvious strengths and shed the minuscule rust that has crept in during the campaign.

India opener K.L. Rahul (left) and No.4 batsman Rishabh Pant bat in the nets during a training session in Leeds on Friday.   -  AFP

 

The Long Room at Headingley lives up to its prefix but what strikes the eye are the wooden boards mounted on the walls. Brownish grainy wood inscribed with names of cricketers, who either struck centuries or bagged a five-for in Tests. We have heard about the honours board at Lord’s and the one here is equally resplendent.

From the Indian perspective, the list features Vijay Manjrekar, M.A.K. Pataudi, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Roger Binny to gaze at and leap back in time. But for the Men in Blue, besides drawing some inspiration from history, it is time to sternly look ahead as Saturday’s game involving Sri Lanka looms into view.

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A World Cup semifinal berth has been secured but more needs to be done ahead of the knockouts. The contest against the men from the Emerald Island presents an opportunity to enhance obvious strengths and shed the minuscule rust that has crept in during the campaign.

Team India at the net session at Headingley in Leeds on Friday.   -  AP

 

It remains to be seen if the management would pick Ravindra Jadeja, who hasn’t had a match yet. As a substitute, Jadeja did all the right things on the field but off it, he has erred in his judgement. The all-rounder’s outburst on Twitter, against Sanjay Manjrekar’s critical remarks, is a distraction that could have been avoided. Other than this unsavoury episode, Virat Kohli’s men have shut out the noise and went about their task of playing hard and then found time to switch-off and recuperate.

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The top troika of Rohit Sharma, K.L. Rahul and Kohli have scored the bulk and it is time for the middle order to galvanise and add more adrenaline. Hardik Pandya and Rishabh Pant did reasonably well and the stage is set for Dinesh Karthik to step up while M.S. Dhoni has to hasten his strike-rate.

Kuldeep Yadav.   -  GETTY IMAGES

 

The bowling has been fine barring that bruising stint against England and the latter is most likely to be at the opposition’s corner in the semifinal. But that possibility could change if India plays to form and defeats Sri Lanka while Australia suffers a blip and succumbs to South Africa. The table will flip, India will lead and would take on the fourth-placed New Zealand. But these are hypothetical situations and what matters is the clash on hand.

Sri Lanka has had a stop-start campaign but has thrived on the will of its seniors be it a Lasith Malinga or Angelo Mathews and the audacity of youth as reflected by Avishka Fernando. Skipper Dimuth Karunaratne would take heart from the fact that a fortnight ago, at this same venue, his men had humbled England. An encore against India would help the Sri Lankans leave with bigger smiles when they exit London’s Heathrow Airport.

This is Malinga’s last World Cup game and he has blazed bright in his twilight, roaring with delight and still promising a wicket in each of his spells. If he could dismiss his Mumbai Indians captain Rohit early, may be the face-off pitting neighbours, could throw up possibilities. But for now it is advantage India.

The teams (from)

India: Virat Kohli (captain), Rohit Sharma, M.S. Dhoni, K.L. Rahul, Hardik Pandya, Jasprit Bumrah, Ravindra Jadeja, Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Rishabh Pant and Mayank Agarwal.

Sri Lanka: Dimuth Karunaratne (captain), Avishka Fernando, Suranga Lakmal, Lasith Malinga, Angelo Mathews, Jeevan Mendis, Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera, Thisara Perera, Kasun Rajitha, Dhananjaya de Silva, Milinda Siriwardana, Lahiru Thirimanne, Isuru Udana and Jeffrey Vandersay.

Umpires: Chris Gaffaney and Paul Wilson; Third umpire: Ian Gould; Match referee: Chris Broad.

Match starts at 3 p.m. IST.