Usual suspects still in the reckoning

Port of Spain: India’s rivalry with Sri Lanka is well documented. And Tuesday’s situation isn’t something India are not familiar with. To qualify for Thursday’s final of the Tri-series, India have to win, which makes it a virtual semi-final. But didn’t India just beat Sri Lanka in the Champions Trophy semi-final? Or in the World Cup final in 2011? Go back 17 years and the big game trend started at the Eden Gardens where Vinod Kambli and the Indian fans exited in tears.

Ever since the 1996 World Cup victory, Sri Lanka have improved from being a regional threat to a major force. According to former coach Tom Moody, what sets apart Sri Lanka from other teams is the number of quality players they have produced in a short period. “They have featured in more World Cup finals than most other teams, whether it is 50 overs or Twenty20 cricket. They have got a couple of special cricketers who thrive in different formats,” said Moody during this year’s Indian domestic Twenty20 league. India know which two players have caused them the most trouble over the past decade. The names that pop up, following the last thrashing handed at Sabina Park after many more in the past, are Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.

Both have taken turns at leading Sri Lanka and played with and against each other in the Indian domestic Twenty20 League but it’s their international record against India that stands out.

Having played 79 and 70 matches respectively against India, Jayawardene and Sangakkara have made the most of it. While Jayawardene has scored 2425 runs against India, with three centuries and 17 half-centuries, Sangakkara has 2452 runs with five centuries and 16 half-centuries. Together, they have plundered more runs against India than any other pair in international cricket.

But as Mahendra Singh Dhoni had commented about familiarity at the beginning of the tournament — ‘if we know them well, they also know us equally well’ — Sri Lanka are aware that among all Indian batsmen, Virat Kohli can be the biggest threat to them.

On the back of a matchwinning century against West Indies, Kohli has already racked up 1446 runs at an average of 55.61 from the 32 matches he has played against Sri Lanka. Of the 14 centuries he has hit till date, five have come against them. But Kohli would be looking for more, especially after the drubbing handed to India on his debut as captain last week.

As for the teams, Tuesday will be yet another familiar battle, albeit on another pitch and in different conditions.