Virat Kohli and his men, as expected, have entered the semi-finals of the ongoing ICC World Cup. However, who their semi-final opponents will be is still not confirmed. As far as the Men in Blue are concerned, what is in their hands is an opportunity to put in another commanding performance in their last league stage match. Their opponents in this encounter are a team ranked seven places them in the ICC ODI team rankings. A team struggling to replace stalwarts like Sanath jayasuriya, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkar, Tillakratne Dilshan and Rangana Herath. In many ways the current Sri Lankan are a pale shadow of the Lankan lions who stunned the cricketing world in 1996 with their World Cup title triumph.
While cricketing superpowers like Australia, India, England and to a certain extent, New Zealand, have improved by leaps and bounds over the last 23 years, the period between Sri Lanka’s first World Cup title run and now has seen the one-time subcontinental giants struggle to challenge the big boys of international cricket.
On Saturday, a high on confidence Team India will clash with Dimuth Karunaratne’s men, who were knocked out of the World Cup semi-final race when England beat India last week. For the Lankans, who have struggled to come together as a unit, it is their last chance to salvage some pride and bow out of a tournament that they were runners-up in just eight years ago.
In many ways what hurt Sri Lanka in the current World Cup, more than the below par performance of some of their star players, was the fact that two of their league stage matches were abandoned due to rain.
"I think playing fearless cricket is important and those who have done well is because they have played fearlessly. If the pressure gets to you, you won’t make the right decision and that has happened to all of us at certain points. It all depends on how you handle pressure. It hasn't been a great tournament but looking to finish well," said Sri Lanka’s Angelo Matthews.
As far as two-time champions India are concerned, with the first goal of qualifying for the semi-finals having been achieved, the aim will now be to push for the top spot on the points table. However, their sole loss to England earlier in the tournament, coupled with their abandoned match versus New Zealand, meant that India’s chances of topping the table also rely on the outcome of the Australia vs South Africa match on Saturday itself. Even if India beat Sri Lanka, a win for Australia in what is the last league stage match of the tournament, will see the five-time world champions, the Aussies, top the table with 16 points, one point ahead of India. If that happens, India’s semi-final opponent will be England, the only team to have beaten them so far in the competition.
For India, it will be interesting to see the Playing XI that they field, considering the match will be played in Leeds, a venue India have not played a single match at this tournament. The big positives for the Men in Blue are Rohit Sharma’s great form (four centuries in this World Cup so far), Virat Kohli’s trademark consistent run at number 3 (first captain to score five consecutive half-centuries in a World Cup), Jasprit Bumrah’s incredibly accurate and effective bowling and Hardik Pandya’s all-round skills.
The World Cup head to head between India and Sri Lanka stands at 4-3 to the Lankans, with one match ending in a no result out of the eight played. The last time these two teams clashed in a World Cup was in the 2011 final in Mumbai, where India beat Sri Lanka to clinch their second World Cup title.