Perth: Plagued by poor batting form for long, a jittery India will need to strike the right combination and lift the standard of their game as they strive to bring their ODI tri-series campaign back on track when they take on Sri Lanka at Perth on Wednesday.
February 8, Perth
Start time 1220 (0420 GMT, 0950 IST)
Just over 10 months have passed since that Wankhede night, last April. Within that period, the fates of the two teams that brought the best out of each other in that memorable World Cup final have nose-dived in bizarre style. India have been mercilessly stripped of their No. 1 Test ranking, the sunset on their golden generation of batsmen hastened by eight successive away drubbings. But their one-day outfit still holds promise, with the energy of fresh legs and the power of broad bats, for the moment at least, masking the worry of poor techniques on quick pitches.
Sri Lanka have had it worse. Finishing second-best in two successive World Cup finals is a tragedy in itself, but even that pales in comparison to what has transpired since. They have endured series after wretched series, home and away, against Australia, Pakistan and South Africa, with no silverware to show for their efforts except in the Twenty20 format. Their players haven't been paid by a bankrupt board. Battered on the field and off it, Sri Lanka are already under their third captain since the World Cup. Mahela Jayawardene led them in the 2008 edition of the CB series, and his reluctant return to the musical chair gives rise to the uneasy feeling that the Sri Lanka haven't progressed in four seasons.
Both teams are desperate for the familiarity of better times, and their first encounter since Wankhede will provide them just that. No two sides have played each other more often in ODI history, especially in recent years - 34 of their 129 clashes came between 2008 and 2010. This series kicks off another glut of games between these thick foes, with the Asia Cup and a bilateral series in Sri Lanka to follow in quick succession. Establishing early supremacy in Australia could prove integral in determining which side heals better in the coming months.
India LWWLW (Most recent first)
Sri Lanka WWLLL
In the spotlight
MS Dhoni and Virender Sehwag haven't played together in an ODI since the World Cup final, though they have individually featured in 11 and four games, respectively. When Sehwag's been fit, Dhoni has been rested. When Sehwag was expected to play, he was 'rested' in the first game of this series. Murmurs of dressing-room disagreements between India's captain and vice-captain mean their internal dynamics will be scrutinised when they take the field in Perth. Signs are that Sehwag will play - you normally don't 'rest' a batsman who smashed the highest score in ODI history in his last outing.
India wouldn't have forgotten Thisara Perera who thumped them to all corners of Mumbai in the end overs of the World Cup final. It wasn't the first time Perera showcased his big-hitting skills through the leg side, and it wasn't the last. More recently, he cracked five sixes in an unbeaten 69 off 44 balls to help Sri Lanka chase 300 against South Africa. His late-swinging yorkers could make him effective at the back-end of Sri Lanka's bowling innings too.
India won the last edition of the CB series by playing to the conditions, as opposed to their traditional strengths. Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar, Irfan Pathan and Sreesanth, all played big roles with the new ball, while spin was relegated to a support role. MS Dhoni went the other way on Sunday, and the move backfired when India's three inexperienced spinners came unstuck in a rain-reduced game. The Perth track will be more amenable to pace, and Dhoni will consider bringing in Pathan for Ravindra Jadeja, whose 2.4 overs leaked 41 runs against Australia. Sehwag is expected to play, with Gautam Gambhir making way at the top of the order. Zaheer Khan or Umesh Yadav could be in line for a call-up too, since India could do with an extra yard of pace.
India: (possible) 1 Virender Sehwag, 2 Sachin Tendulkar, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Rohit Sharma, 5 Suresh Raina, 6 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 7 Irfan Pathan/Ravindra Jadeja, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Vinay Kumar, 10 & 11 Praveen Kumar/Umesh Yadav/Zaheer Khan
Injury kept Jayawardene out of the latter stages of the ODI-leg of the South Africa tour. He will resurface in the middle order on Wednesday. On form, Angelo Mathews should make way, but the axe is likely to fall on Lahiru Thirimanne who hit a match-winning 69 in the final ODI in South Africa.
Sri Lanka: (possible) 1 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 2 Upul Tharanga, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 4 Mahela Jayawardene, 5 Dinesh Chandimal, 6 Angelo Mathews, 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Nuwan Kulasekara, 9 Lasith Malinga, 10 Rangana Herath, 11 Chanaka Welegedara/Dhammika Prasad
Pitch and conditions
The WACA strip was zippy in the Test match, and is expected to behave similarly, but it would require bowlers with real pace to make that count. The conditions in Perth are dry and hot, meaning the pitch has cracks to go with its green tinge. The teams will have an interesting time zeroing in on their bowling units.