Cardiff, June 20 -- What a difference three weeks can make! India arrived here three weeks ago with the odds seemingly stacked against them. The spot-fixing crisis was turning into a whirlpool that looked like it would dissolve the entire Indian cricket establishment.
The English pitches and cold, damp conditions didn't seem particularly favourable. The combination looked unsettled and the absence of experienced names on the team sheet had many secretly wondering if the Champions Trophy campaign would follow along the trajectory of the horror 2011 tour when India lost the Tests, ODIs and T20Is. Not only did they lose, they didn't register a single win all summer.
So now, exactly three weeks after they arrived on British shores they seem to be riding a high and beautiful wave. Will they ride it all the way out to sea? Or will they be thrown back into troubled waters? A familiar foe, from across the Palk Strait, awaits.
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India and Sri Lanka are well-acquainted rivals. They faced each other for the 2011 ODI World Cup crown. Over the last five years, they've faced off a staggering 44 times. The old saying goes that familiarity breeds contempt. But in India's case it could also give birth to confidence. MS Dhoni may not quite see it that way, even if the stats tell a different tale.
"Well, I think it works the same for both the sides. If we say we find it easier, then it would be the same for Sri Lanka. It's just that, yes, we play quite often; either we go to Sri Lanka or they come to India, and we have the Asia Cup, also, where the teams keep on playing against each other. I think it gives a basic idea of what the strengths and weaknesses of each and every individual is as far as the bowlers or the batsmen are concerned. I think it helps both the sides to prepare themselves really well, and you can cut off those extra 15 minutes of time that you spend in a team meeting and keep it very small," said Dhoni.
The numbers, though, favour India. They've won 7 of their last 10 matches against the Islanders. Lasith Malinga's overall ODI average is 26.12. Against India that rockets up to 40.88. He's taken just 34 wickets in 28 matches. Against everyone else he's taken 190 wickets in 114 matches. The fact that India's batsmen get more chances of playing against him due to the IPL only makes them play arguably the most dangerous bowler at Sri Lanka's disposal better than most.
"I think it has to do with the fact that we play amongst each other a lot, so we see a lot of Malinga, we understand him better. I think it's all these small, small things that have really made that kind of an impact, and most of the batsmen, they have faced him, but still, he's one of the most difficult bowlers to score off freely, especially in the shorter format," opinioned Dhoni.
If Sri Lanka's best bowler seems to have an off time against India, the case is the exact opposite for India's best batsman. Virat Kohli's ODI numbers are quite extraordinary on their own - an average of 49.15 after 101 ODIs. Against Sri Lanka they're even more impressive, with his average rising to 55.54 in 30 matches. He's got five of his 13 ODI tons against the Lankans.
If India are able to get past their familiar foes, there's another team they've seen a lot of that awaits. England, the team that humbled them two summers ago, have already booked a spot in the final. Will MS Dhoni & Co join them in the summit clash?
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.