Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 25 August 2019

Yuvraj Singh’s revival benefits India even as retired Kumar Sangakkara’s absence hurts Sri Lanka

Left-hander in resplendent form for Surrey, who play home games at Oval, where Sri Lanka have to beat India on Thursday to have realistic chance of progressing to last four of Champions Trophy, writes Dileep Premachandran.
Yuvraj Singh has been in excellent form for India in recent times, including when he scored a game-changing fifty against Pakistan at the Champions Trophy. Michael Steele / Getty Images
Yuvraj Singh has been in excellent form for India in recent times, including when he scored a game-changing fifty against Pakistan at the Champions Trophy. Michael Steele / Getty Images

There was a time when an India-Sri Lanka one-day international seemed to be almost as frequent as a trip to the grocery store.

In the first decade of the new millennium, the two countries played each other 56 times.

One of the reasons for the viewer-fatigue-inducing glut of games was a convoluted broadcast deal that Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) had signed, which guaranteed them the full amount only if they played X number of match days against India.

A disgruntled SLC employee showed this correspondent a copy of the contract in August 2008, in response to a query about India’s almost-yearly visits to the island.

It might shock those bored to death by the rivalry – India lead the head-to-head 83-54, though it is 4-4 at global 50-overs events – that the two teams have not played a single game since India wrapped up a 5-0 home series win in Ranchi in November 2014.

In fact, there have been just 15 games in the past five years, with India winning 12 of them. Sri Lanka’s last success, at the Asia Cup in February 2014, was largely the result of a Kumar Sangakkara century.

Sangakkara has been in resplendent form for Surrey, who play their home games at The Oval, where Sri Lanka have to beat India on Thursday to have a realistic chance of progressing to the last four of the competition.

Angelo Mathews, who missed the crushing defeat against South Africa through injury, is back to lead them, though Upul Tharanga – who captained against the Proteas – is banned because of over-rate issues that Mathews called “pathetic”.

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Mathews, who has struggled at the helm of a team that lost the services of Sangakkara and fellow middle-order batsman Mahela Jayawardene at the end of the 2015 World Cup, will rely heavily on Lasith Malinga and Nuwan Pradeep to keep India’s batsmen in check, with spin unlikely to be a major factor given the inclement weather.

Sri Lanka’s batting was also noticeably lightweight in Mathews’s absence, and they now run into a four-man India pace attack that has relished the conditions on offer.

Virat Kohli more or less said at the pre-match news conference that India would stick to the same combination – which means no place again for Ravichandran Ashwin or Mohammed Shami.

“Everyone [in the dressing room] respects and understands what we do as a team,” he said, swatting aside a question about tough decisions.

Mathews managed a lot of wry smiles, and shrugged his shoulders ruefully when asked about Sangakkara’s purple patch with the bat.

The hero is not coming back, but his advice – to play with the fearlessness of youth – is something that Mathews and his wards must heed.

For India, it was a hero into his 17th year as an international cricketer that was the game-changer against Pakistan.

Yuvraj Singh’s 32-ball 53 took the match beyond Pakistan’s reach, and led Kohli to suggest that he looked like a “club player” next to the man who has always struck the ball immaculately when in form.

After his recovery from cancer in 2012, Yuvraj had a run of 19 matches in the ODI side. He averaged less than 19, with a strike-rate more suited for the 1980s.

Prior to his recall this January, he had not played an ODI for three years. Now, a generation on from the sparkling 80-ball 84 against Australia, with which he announced himself at the ICC Knockout – the precursor to this tournament – in Nairobi, he is once again at the heart of India’s batting plan.

Sri Lanka, who already have one bogeyman to contend with – Kohli has scored six centuries, and averages 56.24 against them – would do well to be very wary.

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Updated: June 7, 2017 04:00 AM

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