(Cricinfo) West Indies’ horror of a match against India on Friday has not only been an eye opener for them, but has also opened up the tournament. India’s chances of qualifying for the final looked bleak after two consecutive defeats, but they trounced the hosts by a big enough margin to pick up a bonus point. West Indies are still on top with nine points and a game to play, and a win against Sri Lanka today will guarantee their spot in the final. A defeat will still give them a chance at qualifying, but it could come down to a three-way net-run rate scenario if the teams are tied on nine points. A win for Sri Lanka today will tighten the screws as it will at least put them on par with the hosts. It will also make things tougher for India, who are currently on five points with a game to play.
While West Indies are not yet in grave danger of being knocked out, concerns remain. For starters, they will be without their captain Dwayne Bravo, who has been suspended for a slow over-rate. In all likelihood, Kieron Pollard will take over for the second time in three matches. Nothing went right for West Indies on Friday. If looks could deceive, the pitch certainly did. The grass looked inviting enough for both captains to have a bowl, but the decision to insert the opposition backfired on Bravo as his seamers failed to pick up early wickets. The opening partnership was allowed to develop and the West Indies’ death bowling was exposed by Virat Kohli. The batting suffered a bigger meltdown than the bowling, and while the afternoon rain may have spiced up the pitch for the Indian seamers to exploit, the hosts were struggling to get the start they wanted even before rain struck. Chris Gayle and Darren Bravo fell to poor strokes and the loss of two early wickets piled the pressure on the middle order, which looked just as inept. Perhaps the hosts lost the game in the mind after conceding 311. Perhaps batting first might not be a bad option if given the chance, going forward.
Sri Lanka have two more games to play, are tied on points with India but have a superior net run rate. They peaked in all three departments in their previous game, losing just one wicket on their way to 348 and all their five bowlers contributed in bundling out India for less than 200. It remains to be seen if they will change their batting order and give players like Lahiru Thirimanne more time in the middle.
The over-rates in the last two games have been costing the captains and players, literally. On Tuesday, India overshot by 20 minutes leading to Kohli being fined and on Friday, West Indies were worse by one more minute. It was costlier for West Indies, with Bravo now suspended. Changing captains during a tournament could upset a side’s rhythm and West Indies especially can’t afford too many stop-gap arrangements, at a time when Bravo is establishing himself as a full-time ODI captain.
Sri Lanka’s new opening pair of Mahela Jayawardene and Upul Tharanga was formed after Tillakaratne Dilshan’s pre-tournament pull-out due to injury and that combination could stay at least until Dilshan returns. The question is whether Sri Lanka will be tempted to persist with it in future series, after their 213-run stand against India. Jayawardene has had success as an opener, but he hasn’t been a regular at that position; Dilshan is most comfortable at the top and Tharanga will be hard to ignore after his 174. With Kusal Perera earmarked for the future, Sri Lanka might find it hard to settle on one pair, once Dilshan returns. It’s a good headache to have.
Lendl Simmons, the opening batsman, was called in to the squad yesterday as a replacement for Bravo. West Indies could either play him or bring back Devon Smith.
West Indies (probable) 1 Chris Gayle, 2 Johnson Charles, 3 Darren Bravo, 4 Marlon Samuels, 5 Devon Smith/Lendl Simmons, 6 Kieron Pollard (capt), 7 Denesh Ramdin (wk), 8 Darren Sammy, 9 Sunil Narine, 10 Kemar Roach, 11 Tino Best
Sri Lanka may retain their winning combination
Sri Lanka (probable) 1 Mahela Jayawardene, 2 Upul Tharanga, 3 Kusal Perera, 4 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 5 Dinesh Chandimal, 6 Angelo Mathews (capt), 7 Lahiru Thirimanne, 8 Sachithra Senanayake, 9 Nuwan Kulasekara, 10 Rangana Herath, 11 Lasith Malinga