DUBAI: During an ultra-short pre-match press conference, Dasun Shanaka couldn’t stop gushing about India’s firepower. The Sri Lankan captain had earlier in the Asia Cup got into trash talk in the lead-up to a virtual knockout game against Bangladesh. As India find themselves in an equally vulnerable position for Tuesday’s match, Shanaka stayed away from daring his opponents this time.
“I think they had a very good game (against Pakistan) last night. There is nothing called under pressure at the moment because they are playing very good cricket and will be well prepared for tomorrow’s game,” Shanaka said.
That said, there will be some jitters in the Indian camp. Not coming good in crunch games in big tournaments has been a problem with India for most part of the last decade. On paper, India hold all the aces. But the team is far from being settled.
While the top order seemed to have rediscovered some of its ominous form against Pakistan on Sunday, Ravindra Jadeja‘s absence has again exposed the team’s vulnerability: the sixth bowling option. The left-arm spinner’s two-three overs in the middle order often provided a cushion to the team.
The attack unravelled when Pakistan launched a counter-attack on Sunday. Two of India’s least experienced bowlers – Arshdeep Singh and Ravi Bishnoi – returned the best economy rates. It doesn’t help when two of your three top bowlers have a bad day.
Hardik’s re-emergence as a pace bowler is easy to get carried away with. But is he really a third seam option on lively pitches? The debate is still open. In such a situation, Yuzvendra Chahal and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have very little wriggle room . Besides, Bhuvneshwar’s bowling at the death currently is suspect.
Much has been spoken about the team’s endeavour to have like-for-like options. Axar Patel has flown in as one for Jadeja. But that doesn’t really solve the conundrum. Fitting him in won’t be that easy.
India want to play an ultra-aggressive game with the bat. For that they need to bat deep. That was the idea behind having Dinesh Karthik at No. 7 in the first game with Jadeja batting higher. With Jadeja gone, the batting looks thinner. As Virat Kohli said after the Pakistan match, he couldn’t tee off since Bhuvneshwar was batting at No. 8.
Rohit has bowled Kohli against Hong Kong. He didn’t have the confidence to try the off-spin of Deepak Hooda when Chahal was struggling even though quality spin on these rather lively Dubai pitches could be a game-changer.
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Shanaka, with two effective spinners in Wanindu Hasaranga and Maheesh Theeksana, doesn’t want to get into a debate. For him, Indian spinners will always be competent because of the IPL. “These guys all have played IPL and have got a lot of experience through that. They are a proper bowling line-up,” Shanaka said.
Shanaka would know Indian batters have struggled to get going against quality spin of late. Maybe that is why he is considering playing Dhananjay de Silva in place of Charith Asalanka to have another off-spinning option.
While all the attention has been on the money-spinning, high-voltage India-Pakistan clashes in this tournament, Sri Lanka have survived two close encounters. Shanaka doesn’t mind being the underdogs.
“When it comes to Asian cricket games, it’s India-Pakistan games everyone talks about, but we got a very good team, which can win. So, I don’t mind the big talk. I would rather concentrate on the way we are playing,” he said.