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MS Dhoni appeals for an lbw, India v Sri Lanka, Champions Trophy, 2nd semi-final, Cardiff, June 20, 2013

Triangular tournaments can be hard on the ego of the team that leaves the competition first. Unlike a bigger multi-team tournament, there is no consolatory semi-final finish, or a bronze medal. There is only a lonely last place. This series has just started, but with West Indies nine points clear of both India and Sri Lanka, that last-place tag, for now, has gravitated towards the two subcontinent sides. The familiar foes, who have played each other in five different countries in the last couple of years, both need a win in the last match of the series at Sabina Park to ensure some breathing space before the entourage moves to Port of Spain.


That these two teams know each other inside out is common knowledge. While the familiarity has worked in India’s favour as their batsmen have decoded the unconventionality of Sri Lanka’s attack, the same can’t be said about the latter. They have repeatedly wilted against India’s simple game plan – ‘whatever you score, we’ll do better’. The result is that when the two meet, it is almost like India’s XI is up against Sri Lanka’s IX, with the threat posed by Lasith Malinga and Ajantha Mendis to other teams reduced to a dud against India batsmen.


In cricket, however, most of the times, it is not a test of man-to-man strength. A special innings, an outstanding spell or even an exceptional instance of fielding is all that is required to overcome an opposition. On Friday, it was Chris Gayle who did that; on Sunday, it was Johnson Charles who blazed away. Sri Lanka have players who can do that as well – Kumar Sangakkara showed it against England in a tall chase at The Oval during the Champions Trophy – but the question is, can they do it against India?


India’s juggernaut was brought to a halt on Sunday by West Indies, but only just. West Indies’ bowlers set a template on how to stifle India’s stroke-makers on a slow pitch, and their batsmen then rolled along comfortably as the surface eased out. In the absence of MS Dhoni, who didn’t take the field after injuring his hamstring while batting, India fought hard, but were tripped by a resolute last-wicket stand. Virat Kohli, the stand-in captain, admitted the team missed Dhoni’s calmness during that frantic ending.


Sri Lanka haven’t been in their best form, but as West Indies proved, this young Indian side is beatable. With Dhoni ruled out of the rest of this series, the balance between the two sides has slightly been redressed.