Dominant India eye series clean sweep
Colombo: A rampaging India will fancy their chances of completing a 5-0 whitewash of Sri Lanka when they face the beleaguered hosts in the fifth and final One-day International match here on Sunday.
The visitors already swept the Test series 3-0, and given their dominant run on this trip, would like to sweep the ODI series as well.
Sri Lanka are in danger of losing a second successive ODI series to India by a 5-0 margin. The last time these two sides played a bilateral series in November 2014, a depleted Lankan side lost 5-0 in India.
Their fortunes haven't changed much since and another loss would be a serious body blow for the hosts in what has been a traumatic summer of cricket. They have already foregone the opportunity to automatically qualify for the 2019 ODI World Cup by failing to win two matches in this series.
That 5-0 win in 2014-15 was India's last ODI series whitewash. Since they have beaten Zimbabwe 3-0 twice, as also beating them 5-0 in 2013.
Considering sterner opposition, India previously beat New Zealand and England 5-0 in 2010-11 and 2012-13 respectively, both series' wins coming at home.
In fact, England are the only side to lose 5-0 twice to India (in 2008-09 as well) in the last decade, so the Men in Blue will be eager to add another entry to this short list.
Given the heat and humidity here, and the exertions of what has been a long if not arduous tour, the Indian team enjoyed an additional day off ahead of the fifth ODI.
There are no injury concerns and the same playing combination can expect to be retained tomorrow, with the likes of Manish Pandey, Kuldeep Yadav and Shardul Thakur given a further opportunity to impress.
Additionally, coach Ravi Shastri had spoken yesterday about the need to carefully manage workloads of bowlers across formats. It remains to be seen if Hardik Pandya will be given a break in this light, and Kedar Jadhav afforded another chance to impress, ahead of a long limited-overs' schedule at home.
In light of the team's experimentation and rotation policy, Ajinkya Rahane is the only batsman not to get game time in this series. With Rohit Sharma coming back and scoring runs, and Shikhar Dhawan in good form, the team management has so far not toyed with the opening combination.
Rahane, on the other hand, had won the man-of-the-series in the last ODI engagement in West Indies with 336 runs from five matches including a hundred and three half-centuries.
There is a chance that he could be given a game ahead of Dhawan in this final ODI, even if only to cement his spot as the designated third-choice opener.
This also puts the spotlight on KL Rahul who was given a middle-order role in the current ODI series, specifically keeping the preparation for the next World Cup in mind. So far that experiment hasn't worked with Rahul returning scores of 4, 17 and 7 in his three outings.
Oddly enough, Rahul has fallen to Akila Dananjay in all three matches. While it will be a matter of concern for the team management, they will also want to afford him further opportunities to strengthen the case for a middle-order berth.
Manish Pandey's half-century in the fourth ODI gives the team additional leeway in this regard.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka are expected to make at least one chance to their playing XI. Skipper Upul Tharanga will be back in charge of affairs after sitting out the last two games owing to his suspension for slow-over rate. He is expected to slot into the middle order once again and Lahiru Thirimanne might be asked to open the innings instead.
It remains to be seen if the Lankan captain can inspire a serious challenge in this fifth ODI after a lacklustre summer.
Most of all though, after two suspensions in three months, Tharanga will be looking to complete the 50 overs within the stipulated time.