The history of sport is filled with examples of the underdogs’ triumph every time they had been grossly underestimated, and India’s Dharamsala annihilation was another chapter in the same. Rebounding from the setback, though, the Indian team hit the nets early in overcast Mohali on Tuesday, armed with an extra left-arm pacer – local boy Barinder Sran.
That may have been to accommodate Sri Lanka’s practice later since the tourists were stranded in Dharamsala an extra day due to snow, but the morning hit out gave the team a rehearsal for what they can expect on Wednesday should they be batting first again in the must-win contest. India’s batting inadequacies against the moving ball were thoroughly exposed as Suranga Lakmal ran through the top-order on a helpful pitch, until MS Dhoni came to rescue with his counter-attacking 65. With the incessant rains in the mountains, the conditions in Mohali aren’t going to be any different on Wednesday, presenting this new-look batting order another stern test and also a chance to redeem themselves.
Ajinkya Rahane was the first to hit the nets and nearly the last to leave, but given captain Rohit Sharma’s call to back the ‘young’ core before the team starts touring abroad, the batting department is unlikely to see any major tinkering. However, a lot more would be expected out of them with the series on line. Bowlers could not be faulted for the Dharamsala defeat – 112 is difficult to defend on any track – but Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya are far from being on top of their game ahead of the South Africa journey. Pandya’s inability to fill the shoes of a third seamer perfectly might tempt the management into handing Siddarth Kaul his maiden cap at his homeground where the prevailing conditions would warrant an additional fast-bowling option in the eleven. Considering Pandya has other utilities too, a spinner would most likely face the axe.
The Sri Lankans came into the series without the burden of expectations and, by purely doing the basics right, have earned an early lead. Lakmal, who has constantly troubled the best of Indian batsmen on this tour every time he’s got assistance from the track, served the dominant hosts a timely eye-opener. Angelo Mathews, too, has made a promising return with the ball. Sri Lanka cantered to the win with more than 29 overs to spare, but given the low target they chased, their batting haven’t been put through a big test. They do have enough firepower in their batting but they are also susceptible to collapses, as Nic Pothas indirectly admitted after winning the series opener.
That said, Sri Lanka are on the cusp of something truly special. Series victories in this part of the cricketing world have lately belonged only to India. If the tourists can ward off complacency, they might become the most underrated team to halt India’s domineering streak.