Three heavy Test defeats, another mauling in one-day format last Sunday and with five more ties (four ODIs and one T20I) remaining, the question remains how deep is the end of the ocean where the Islanders continue to ebb?
The tour so far has seen the hulking Indian side lash out severe beatings to a Sri Lanka side in stupor. And if the Lankans have to wake up from their slump, the scenic Pallekele International Stadium hosting the second ODI isn’t all that bad a place to do so.
The Indian outfit isn’t the only hurdle Upul Tharanga’s men have to overcome, there are more internal issues rather than the external ones. There has been a lot of debate over selection policy, which Sri Lanka's interim coach, Nic Pothas, blames for the lopsided performances.
Sri Lankan legends like Arjuna Ranatunga has been busy lambasting selectors, management, players and making some baseless claims of a World Cup final, played more than six years ago being rigged, instead of supporting his team during the time of crisis. Tharanga himself has been grappling to get some runs against his name to inspire his side. He embodied the sombre mood even during the post-match presentation ceremony at Dambulla after losing to India by nine wickets in the first ODI.
Still, white ball cricket gives the Lankan team an outside chance to upset the favourites on their day. Often we have mentioned their amazing chase against the same opposition couple of months ago in Kennington Oval London in the Champions Trophy fixture, and the Sri Lankan think tank must remind their team of the same before the second ODI. The main architects of the chase – Danushka Gunathilaka and Kusal Mendis – both got off to brisk starts in the first ODI and were dismissed for 35 and 36 respectively.
The duo made it clear that they can overturn their team’s fortunes and that it isn’t impossible for them to give India a tough time. They have more than able company in Niroshan Dickwella, who got the hosts to a splendid start in Dambulla. The wicketkeeper-batsman has been one of the silver linings for Sri Lanka. Holding true to his natural style of playing free-flowing attacking strokes, he has formed a decent top order with Gunathilaka and Mendis.
It is the middle order, including senior pros Angelo Mathews and Chamara Kapugedara, that needs to step up along with captain Tharanga to fight against Virat Kohli’s men. The inexperienced bowling can be veiled if the batsmen put in that extra effort. Being the only real senior bowler, Lasith Malinga cannot afford to dish out freebies for the in-form Indian batsmen to feast on. If he manages to keep his end tight and bowl his quota for under 45 runs and pick up a wicket or two, it would give a cushion for his fast bowling partner Vishwa Fernando to get into his rhythm early in the innings.
This will also make life simpler for the spinners – Lakshan Sandakan and Wanindu Hasaranga – who will come into play later on in the game. Making it the only possible way for the hosts can look to mount pressure on the opposition. If Malinga fails the rest of the bowlers will mostly likely fail too.
From India’s point of view, it will be interesting to see what the team is looking to do differently, especially after captain Kohli said to ‘expect a lot of changes’ as the team set sights on 2019 World Cup.
We already saw KL Rahul slotted at No 4 in the first ODI, but didn’t get a chance to bat. There is a possibility of Manish Pandey making his way back into the playing XI. There could be some surprise omission of some of the regular players as well. We might also get the first look of Shardul Thakur on the international stage. The second ODI will also be important for the new vice-captain Rohit Sharma, who missed out in Dambulla, to get some runs under him. He might be lubricating the edge of his bat after the unfortunate first ODI dismissal.
There's plenty to look forward to as we build towards the second ODI of the series, which is pivotal in terms of series as well as the larger picture for both sides. India will aim to create their core for the 2019 World Cup while Sri Lanka need to ensure they do not fall behind in the race to directly qualify for the World Cup, as just over a month remains for the cut-off date. There are a couple of teams fighting for the eighth spot and Sri Lanka must bounce back to stay in contention.