Hardly 15 minutes after Mahendra Singh Dhoni arrived at the team hotel in Colombo with his fellow one-day recruits, had he faced a barrage of questions. No surprise that most of them focused around the man who snatched almost half of the Indian wickets in the Test series, Ajantha Mendis.
“I’ll just ask Mahela Jayawardene if he will lend Mendis for a couple of practice sessions. If not, then…,” Dhoni said with a laugh when asked how India could tackle Mendis. “But seriously, we will have to deal with it in a personal way. We can watch 1000 videos of what he does, but it is up to the individual to play him on the turf. It depends on your frame of mind.”
India’s ODI squad includes two uncapped players, Tamil Nadu’s S Badrinath and Delhi’s Virat Kohli, the victorious Under-19 captain. Sachin Tendulkar will not play the five-ODIs after sustaining an injury to his left elbow during the third Test in Colombo. Dhoni admitted that was a major blow, but put faith in the younger players. “It’s not just his contribution with bat and the ball, but he comes up with brilliant suggestions and advice on the field. The impact he has in the dressing room is great.
In the Tests India’s batsmen failed to put up good scores, failing to cross 330, and that cost them the series. Dhoni, however, said it was important for the batsmen to back themselves to score briskly, despite the setbacks.
India’s recent record in the subcontinent includes losses in the finals of the Kitply and Asia Cup, which Dhoni termed as “crucial games”, and he hoped to rectify that trend. The ODI specialists had two days of practice at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore, which Dhoni said was “up to the mark”, and he noted a lot of energy in the side.
Jayawardene, Dhoni’s counterpart, was understandably optimistic about the ODIs, having defeated India in the Asia Cup and the Test series. “It is always a different game and we have different game plans [for handling India],” he said. “It’s a young side, and we are grooming a young group of guys to take over. We are looking to the little things well as individuals – that’s been our emphasis and I think that’s what has contributed to our improvement over that period.”
Picking up 26 wickets is no mean achievement for a bowler, but when Mendis and Murali operate in tandem is when they’re so difficult. After a long time, Murali has a genuine match-winning spinning partner, and Jayawardene felt it was quite a relief for a captain to have such an option. “We now have good attacking options,” he said. “Murali has got the support he requires and also there is support for [Chaminda] Vaas. We have the likes of Lasith Malinga and Dilhara Fernando. For us it’s always a team and it does not matter what Ajantha Mendis does.”
Sri Lanka will welcome back their prolific one-day opener, Sanath Jayasuriya, but Jayawardene was not sure about who would partner him. Sri Lanka’s 15-man squad includes eight batsmen, so they have choices between Malinda Warnapura, Mahela Udawatte, and Kumar Sangakkara to open. Jayawardene said Warnapura’s success in the Tests – he scored 243 runs at 60.75, with a hundred in the first Test at the SSC, and two fifties – gave Sri Lanka a viable option, but Sangakkara’s success in the Asia Cup could see him opening with Jayasuriya.
“The way everyone’s talking about Ajantha,” Jayawardene said, “he might take ten wickets even before going on.” The venue for the first two ODIs is Dambulla, a notoriously low-scoring venue which favours spin, so India will need to be on their best guard against Sri Lanka’s two spinners.
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Sandesh Kumar Jaggi