In a repeat of the 2011 World Cup final, India take on Sri Lanka at the Wankhede Stadium on Thursday. After India’s most famous win on home soil 11 years ago, the teams will face-off for the first time in an ODI at the venue.
Sachin Tendulkar’s life-size bronze statue, unveiled on Wednesday on the western part of the stadium, and the Victory Memorial Stand built where skipper MS Dhoni’s Cup-winning six landed to seal the 2011 final, will remind everyone of that epic game.
From the current set, three players will have vivid but contrasting memories of that clash. Sri Lanka’s Angelo Mathews was injured and sitting in the dressing room, having featured in the semifinal win over New Zealand. Virat Kohli and R Ashwin were part of the winning team – Kohli batted at No. 4 and bowled one over while R Ashwin was in the reserves.
The rivalry, though, is not the same since Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Lasith Malinga and Muttiah Muralitharan retired. From all indications, the seventh round game in this World Cup could be lopsided.
Smarting from a chastening defeat at the hands of Afghanistan, Sri Lanka run into the marauding home side which has waylaid all opponents so far. A Sri Lanka win is now considered an upset, such has been te fall of the islanders. Their two meetings in the Asia Cup were one-sided with India routing them by 10 wickets in the final.
In scintillating form, India look every bit a champion side, quite like Dhoni’s batch of 2011. Placed on top of the table with an all-win record, they will be look to seal the semifinal spot with another win before a tough game against the in-form South Africa at Eden Gardens.
The buzz around Rohit Sharma’s squad is unmatched, and Wankhede will be packed to the rafters in the hope of watching the home team put on another dominating show.
The game is important for India as they will in all probability play their semifinal here with Pakistan’s chances of progressing having dimmed. (If they face Pakistan, it would be at Eden Gardens). It will be an opportunity to get used to the conditions and understand their best combination before the knockout clash.
India’s main focus will be to help the players who are short of runs to find their rhythm. The batting has been quite dependent on Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli – the two together have scored 52.58% of the total runs. In this regard, the performance of Shubman Gill and Shreyas Iyer will be keenly watched.
When all-rounder Hardik Pandya returns to the team after recovering from his ankle issue, there will be fight for a spot in the middle order. Iyer has the numbers while Suryakumar Yadav has staked his claim with a robust innings against England at Lucknow.
The pressure is on Iyer to get a big innings on his home turf. After twice getting out on the pull shot, how he plays the horizontal bat strokes will be under scrutiny.
It is a good chance for Iyer to cash in against an injury-hit Sri Lanka attack, which is demoralised after a flat show against Afghanistan at Pune on Monday. From Sri Lanka’s original squad, skipper Lahiru Kumara, bowling all-rounder Dasun Shanaka and slinger Matheesha Pathirana have all returned home due to injury.
Gill too will want to get going. Assured and dominating in the lead up to the tournament, he has not been at his best, scoring only one fifty. His illness (dengue) at the start of the tournament seems to have affected his game. He will however love the Wankhede pitch.
The bowling has been firing on all cylinders. But being a long tournament, India might consider rotating their pacers being mindful of their workload, to keep them fresh for the knock-out games. It remains to be seen if they think of giving a break to Jasprit Bumrah or Mohammed Siraj and give another chance to Shardul Thakur.
Sharma is the flavour of the tournament. The impact he has made at the top of the order has been stunning. Playing at his home ground, all eyes will be on him. He will have to watch out for Sri Lanka left-arm pacer Dilshan Madushanka, who has a good incoming ball.
Equal focus will be on Kohli. One century away from equalling Tendulkar’s ODI record, what better stage for him to get his 49th than at his idol’s home ground.
The conditions will be perfect for batting. India have won their games convincingly but the only thing missing is a tall total. Their highest so far has been 274 chasing against New Zealand. With totals of 380 plus twice, South Africa have showed that the Wankhede pitch is full of runs. It is time India joined the run feast and tick that box with another win.