Improvement on India’s mind as they take on ‘positive’ Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka would like to end their T20 World Cup campaign on a high. © ICC

Smriti Mandhana and Harmanpreet Kaur have a combined total of 32 runs against their name in this tournament so far. Usually, when India’s two best T20I batters have such a poor run together, India struggle to perform.

Instead, they are the first team in the T20 World Cup to qualify for the semifinals. They have not only survived the Group of Death, they have dominated it. A come-from-behind win against Australia, a team performance against Bangladesh, and a spin master-class against New Zealand have seen India book their tickets to Sydney. And the performances have come across the board, from the young Shafali Verma (114 runs in three games at a strike rate of 172.72), and not-so-young Poonam Yadav and Shikha Pandey (aged 28 and 30) leading the bowling charts in the tournament (8 and 6 wickets respectively).

One of the concerns is the form of the captain. While Mandhana has looked good at the crease, Harmanpreet has endured a couple of soft dismissals, despite coming in in situations tailor made for her slow starting style. 

“I’m definitely trying to enjoy my batting. Sometimes things don’t go to plan,” she said on the eve of the game.  And yet she has been very proactive with her field settings, and has marshalled her bowlers well enough to not have to bowl herself. “As long as the team is doing well, it’s fine. I try to keep the team environment good. Batting is something where if you don’t focus on one ball you’re out of the game. So I just try to be there as much as possible.”

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India also went undefeated through the group stages of the World T20 2018, but were heavily reliant on Mandhana and Harmanpreet. This time they are looking to maintain their clean sheet with the pair due for runs, something that might give their opponents Sri Lanka a few jitters.

But the Lankans gave both New Zealand and Australia, their opponents so far, some jitters themselves, mostly courtesy the bat of Chamari Atapattu. The left-handed skipper has scores of 41 and 50 in this World Cup so far, and seems to enjoy the responsibility of being the premier batter in her team, irrespective of the support (or lack thereof) she gets.

“I play all my natural game. That is my positive cricket. That’s it. I always talk to myself and say play positive, play with courage, and play freely. That’s three words I always talk to myself,” she said. Atapattu enjoyed the pace of the two Tasman attacks, but will have to check her backlift a bit when facing the Indian spinners, who can dip below the 60 kmph mark. 

Sri Lanka’s performance so far, especially against Australia where they had the hosts 10 for 3 in a chase of 123, has emphasised just how close this tournament is. “We did well against Australia and New Zealand, but we couldn’t turn it into a win. Chamari Atapattu is performing well which really is boosting the team,” said Shashikala Siriwardene. “Playing close matches against good quality teams has only helped us to improve.”

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Sri Lanka are still in with a mathematical chance of making the semi final if Bangladesh beat New Zealand in the first of a double-header at Junction Oval. India need no such luck, and have it in their hands to stay unbeaten. A very stern-faced Harmanpreet promised to maintain the intensity despite having qualified. “We will be taking Sri Lanka very seriously. They’ve been doing well. I know they haven’t won a game but they were almost there on both occasions. We will be taking it very seriously before we start thinking about the semi-finals,” she said.

And rightly so. India have done well in patches, but have not been able to fire as a batting unit. They will step onto the Junction Oval still looking for the perfect game, with an eye on being their best by the time the tournament moves to Sydney.

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India: Harmanpreet Kaur (c), Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Jemimah Rodrigues, Harleen Deol, Veda Krishnamurthy, Taniya Bhatia (wk), Deepti Sharma, Shikha Pandey, Pooja Vastrakar, Poonam Yadav, Radha Yadav, Arundhati Reddy, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Richa Ghosh.

Sri Lanka: Chamari Atapattu (c), Harshitha Madavi, Anushka Sanjeewani, Hansima Karunaratne, Shashikala Siriwardene, Nilakshi de Silva, Ama Kanchana, Kavisha Dilhari, Udeshika Prabodhani, Achini Kulasuriya, Hasini Perera, Sathya Sandeepani, Umesha Thimashini, Sugandika Kumari, Dilani Manodara.