Birmingham: Indian cricketers face the daunting twin tasks of leaving behind the IPL spot-fixing scam and adapting to the tough conditions here as they begin their preparations for the ICC Champions Trophy with a warm-up game against Sri Lanka Saturday.
Some on-field action will help divert the attention from the scandal, which has tarnished the reputation of Indian cricket. The conditions favour India's fast bowlers but they need to sort out their line and length. India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni has already said that they will follow a five-bowler strategy.
India's success would hinge on how well the pacers exploit the conditions and there are a lot of expectations from the young Bhuvaneshwar Kumar who can swing the ball both ways. Bhuvaneshwar has impressed in the limited opportunities he has got, especially against Pakistan in a home ODI series. Conditions would be ideal for his style of bowling and he would look to cement his place in the side with some solid performances.
Umesh Yadav, who has returned to the fold after recovering from an injury, could not get a better opportunity to force his way back in the side as the pitches in England will assist him. Ishant Sharma also looks in good touch after being instrumental in his IPL side Sunrisers Hyderabad's stupendous show.
Dhoni may choose to go in with Irfan Pathan as his fourth paceman given that his batting skills would lend India's line-up more depth. It will be interesting to see how Dhoni uses Vinay Kumar, the other paceman. Ravindra Jadeja would be a strong contender to fill in the lone spinner's spot. His batting prowess down the order makes him an automatic choice for the skipper.
In that case, Ravichandran Ashwin and Amit Mishra may have to wait for a longer period to get a chance to roll their arms as the first six spots will be filled by batsman. It is a big opportunity for Shikhar Dhawan, who caught the world's eye with his blistering hundred on debut against Australia in the home Test series last year.
Dhawan looks confident but he has to ensure that his footwork is up to the mark in the probing conditions. Murali Vijay, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma and skipper Dhoni were all in good form during the IPL. The only worry would be Virat Kohli as he has played well only in patches. At the same time he remains a big stage performer and would be key to India's fortunes in the tournament.
India: MS Dhoni (C), Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Dinesh Karthik, Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma.
Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews (c), Tillakaratne Dilshan, Rangana Herath, Mahela Jayawardene, Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga, Jeevan Mendis, Kusal Perera, Thisara Perera, Kumar Sangakkara (wk), Sachithra Senanayake.
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