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India eye encore; revenge fuels Lanka

Last updated on: January 27, 2009 19:57 IST

The 3-2 triumph last year fresh in mind, India will seek to maintain their supremacy while revenge will be on top of Sri Lanka's mind when the neighbours square off in the first One-Day International of the five-match series in Dambulla on Wednesday.

Under the charismatic Mahendra Singh Dhoni, India have been in ominous form in both forms of the game and the 5-0 whitewash against England in the ODI series at home gives a fair indication of the side's might.

In contrast, Sri Lanka have not been as convincing.

Under their off-colour skipper Mahela Jayawardene, the islanders struggled against minnows Zimbabwe and lost to Bangladesh in a recent tri-series in Dhaka.

Things looked better in the hastily arranged three-match ODI series in Pakistan, where they lost the series opener before eventually clinching the series with back-to-back wins.

Despite holding a slight edge over the hosts, the lone worry for Dhoni remains the spin attack which sports an inexperienced look in the absence of injured off-spinner Harbhajan Singh.

Hyderabad left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha, who has played just five ODIs so far, will spearhead the spin attack, while uncapped Saurashtra all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja is also be expected to chip in.

Dhoni himself realises what it means not to have Harbhajan in the ranks but reckons he can always fall back on the part-time options he has in Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh.

"Harbhajan has been our pick of the spinners for some time. Whether you are bowling first or second or bowling in powerplays, he is the person," Dhoni said.

"But we have two spinners in the side, Pragyan Ojha and Ravindra Jadeja. I think they will try to fill in the space left by Harbhajan's absence. Of course, we have part-timers also who have done well. It is an opportunity for both the spinners to prove themselves," he added.

Otherwise, there apparently is no chink in the Indian armour, but Dhoni insists it will be fatal to lower the guard, especially playing Sri Lanka at their den.

"It will be a tough series. It is tough to beat Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka though we had defeated them the last time around," Dhoni said.

For Jayawardene, the key is to stick to the winning ways.

"Our strategy will be to try and continue the winning momentum. It is going to be a tough series and we look forward to the challenge," he said.

"We lost the first game against Pakistan. It was really tough for us to come back. We had a chat and we knew exactly what went wrong. Next two games was history," the Lankan skipper said.

Still on paper, the balance looks tilted in India's favour considering the consistency they have shown in recent past.

India have arguably the best opening pair at the moment with the Delhi duo of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir in cracking form.

Despite his age, Sachin Tendulkar remains as hungry for runs as ever, while few can match Yuvraj Singh's striking ability in this format.

Among the youngsters, Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma have already proved their credentials while Yusuf Pathan would be there down the order to provide the late charge.

The pace bowling department also has a formidable look about it with Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma forming a lethal new ball pair.

Sri Lanka's bowling doesn't look bad either. Nuwan Kulasekara is currently the number two bowler in the ICC ODI rankings while Thilana Kulasekara has been consistently among the wickets.

However, all eyes would be on their spin attack which comprises two of the most exciting turners of the ball of this era.

Veteran Muttiah Muralitharan needs three more wickets to overtake Wasim Akram's ODI tally of 502 scalps and that would make him the highest wicket-taker in both forms of the game.

At the other end, Ajantha Mendis will fancy his chances against the same Indian line-up he wrecked in the Asia Cup final last year.

Squads:

India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain), Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Ravindra Jadeja, Zaheer Khan, Praveen Kumar, Pragyan Ojha, Munaf Patel, Irfan Pathan, Yusuf Pathan and Ishant Sharma.

Sri Lanka: Mahela Jayawardena (captain), Kumar Sangakkara, Sanath Jayasuriya, Upul Tharanga, Chamara Kapugedera, Jehan Mubarak, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Thilina Kandamby, Muttiah Muralitharan, Ajantha Mendis, Farveez Maharoof, Dilhara Fernando, Nuwan Kulasekera, Thilina Thushara and Angelo Mathews.

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