LONDON: A near flawless demolition of Pakistan achieved, India will eye another dominant performance to seal a semifinal berth when they take on Sr Lanka in the ICC Champions Trophy here today.
Having pulverised Pakistan by 124 runs, India will start as overwhelming favourites against Sri Lanka, who looked in total disarray during their 96-run defeat at the hands of South Africa.
The only worry is the fickle London weather, with forecasts of 40 percent chance of heavy rainfall.
Contrasting performances aside, the sheer difference in quality also puts India a few notches ahead of the cricketers from the island nation.
On paper, the two sides are a total mismatch.
While India ticked almost all the boxes in their victory against Pakistan, the Sri Lankans, in their opening fixture, looked as if they have only entered the tournament to add numbers.
The winners of the last edition have a formidable batting line-up, which is being backed very well by a potent bowling attack.
And therein lies the problem with Sri Lanka, which is a side that is going through a rebuilding phase for the longest time now.
To make matters worse, the form and fitness of regular captain Angelo Mathews is a cause for concern, while senior opener Upul Tharanga’s two-match suspension has added insult to injury.
It’s two years since both Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara quit ODIs post the 2015 World Cup but Sri Lanka have not been able to single out even a couple of players, who can show steely resolve.
The likes of Dinesh Chandimal or Chamara Kapugedara have been around for some time but both have been guilty of not realising their full potential till date.
No wonder Sangakkara, in his column for the ICC, has made it clear that Sri Lanka need to show aggression against India while conceding that it may not be easy for them.
Playing in his final first-class season, Sangakkara has been in sublime form for Surrey with four centuries in county cricket.
For India, playing Sri Lanka before facing South Africa (on June 11) is an advantage as they can go into the final group league game with a free mind.
Rohit Sharma hitting a 91 on comeback is a reassurance while Shikhar Dhawan’s positive approach will keep the ‘Men in Blue’ in good stead.
Skipper Virat Kohli has over the years been Sri Lanka’s nemesis and the 81 not out against Pakistan, is just the tonic he needed before taking on the likes of Lasith Malinga, Suranga Lakmal and Nuwan Pradeep.
Yuvraj Singh was in vintage form at the Edgbaston and a placid Oval pitch will only help get a few more runs under his belt.
Hardik Pandya’s power hitting at No 7 and his ability to chip in with quick wickets makes this Indian side more intimidating.
The only thing that Virat Kohli would want now is Mahendra Singh Dhoni getting some batting time before the big game against South Africa.
Kohli promoting Pandya ahead of Dhoni is an indication that the skipper is looking to use his former captain more as an accumulator — in Javed Miandad mould who would rotate strike, frustrate bowlers and launch a furious counter-attack after getting his eye in.
India’s bowling unit has been sharp off late. Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s controlled swing bowling, Umesh Yadav’s fiery pace backed by Jasprit Bumrah’s overs at the death has have troubled the oppositions.
Such has been the quality that bowlers of Mohammed Shami and Ravichandran Ashwin’s calibre are warming the benches since the first XI picked for the matches so far have not given any reason to complaint.
It is unlikely that Kohli would tinker with the winning combination although one feels for Ashwin, who is India’s strike bowler in the red-ball format.
For Sri Lanka, this is a do-or-die match where a lot will depend on how well skipper Mathews plays and the kind of performance Malinga gives while bowling first up.
If the duo fails, one can be sure that Sri Lanka will meet Pakistan’s fate against this current India side.