press trust of india
CARDIFF, 19 JUNE: Unbeaten so far, a confident India will be up against a massive challenge when they take on southern Asian rivals Sri Lanka, a team on the rise after a slow start, in the second semi-final of the Champions Trophy tournament here tomorrow.
India are the favourites but the islanders are also on a high after defeating both England and Australia on their way to the semi-final, which will be a repeat of the 2011 World Cup final in Mumbai.
While India had been the first team to make the last-four phase from the tournament’s Group of Death with an all-win record in the current tournament, Sri Lanka grabbed the last semi-final berth after warding off a late challenge from Australia.
The 20-run win at the Oval enabled the Sri Lankans to finish level on points with England, but an inferior run rate pushed them down to No 2, leaving them to fight it out with India at the Sophia Gardens.
For the Sri Lankans, it will be a grudge game of sorts. In the final of the 2011 World Cup at Wankhede Stadium, India defeated the co-hosts by six wickets, easily chasing down a 275-run target, with skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni coming up with the coup de grace by hitting a towering six off Nuwan Kulasekara.
While Sri Lanka have retained the core of that 2011 World Cup squad, the Indian team have undergone an infusion of new blood after Sandeep Patil replaced Krishnamachari Srikkanth as chief selector in September 2012. Only Dhoni, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina remain from the World Cup-winning side and the arrival of a set of youths, inclusive of Ravindra Jadeja and Shikhar Dhawan, has had a telling impact on the overall team performance, especially in terms of fielding.
The Indians have been on song ever since landing in the UK for the Champions Trophy. The Sri Lankans were the first to face the heat, losing a warm-up game in Birmingham. India flexed their batting muscles, easily chasing down a 334-run target with five wickets in hand and six balls to spare.Kohli and Dinesh Karthik scored hundreds, virtually toying with the Sri Lankan bowling attack, spearheaded by Kulasekara and current skipper Angelo Mathews.
India’s batting domination has been clear in this competition. They have scored over 300 runs thrice in five matches, twice batting first.
Against the West Indies in a Group B fixture, India easily chased down a 234-run target with eight wickets in hand and in a rain-hit game at Edgbaston, defeated an off-colour Pakistan equally emphatically (D/L method). Sri Lanka have got better with every game. After losing a low-scoring thriller against New Zealand at Cardiff by a wicket, they bounced back with a commanding seven-wicket victory against England at the Oval.
They did go through some anxious moments when playing against Australia but the eventual 20-run win must have given the islanders a big shot in the arm ahead of the semi-final.
India’s batting revolves around young men like Shikhar Dhawan, Kohli and Karthik, who have taken the world by storm with their euphoric stroke-making and natural belligerence.
Sri Lanka continue to rely on old pros famous for their silken touch and classy stroke-making. Sangakkara proved that against England with an unbeaten 134 that had grace written all over it. And Mahela Jayawardene played an exquisite, unbeaten knock of 84 runs against a desperate Australia at the Oval. Sangakkara, Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan are central to Sri Lanka’s batting and with explosive youngsters like Lahiru Thirimanne, Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal packing their middle order, the match against India should be a contest between two sets of top-quality batsmen.  A fresh new track has been laid by the Glamorgan ground staff at the Sophia Gardens for the semi-final. Chief curator Keith Exton says 280 should be an okay score but 300 will be very safe. With overcast conditions expected on Thursday, new-ball bowlers should get some advantage.  India and Sri Lanka clashed in the Champions Trophy final in 2002 in Colombo – not once, but twice. On successive days, rain played spoilsport and for the first time in the history of a major International Cricket Council tournament, the title had to be shared. But come Thursday, neither history nor the result of a warm-up game will have any consequence.
As Jayawardene said on Tuesday: “Warm-up games or whatever, it doesn’t count right now. It’s a big tournament. It’s a semi-final … we’ll be desperate to win every game."
Dhoni musings
India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni rated Sri Lanka as "a dangerous team" ahead of their ICC Champions Trophy semi-final on Thursday, saying they were not just focussing on “a Mahela Jayawardene or a Kumar Sangakkara”.
Thursday’s semi-final will be the fifth meeting between India and Sri Lanka in the United Kingdom. Except for the shock defeat in the 1979 World Cup, India easily won the remaining four. But Dhoni is taking nothing for granted.
Dhoni said there was no pressure on the Indian team to win the championship.
"It’s the Indian media that creates all this hype (after the recent BCCI controversies back home) and then asks me questions. As far as we are concerned, we have to play good cricket, we are working hard and  proving ourselves." The Indian captain has been quite selective in dealing with the Press during the Champions Trophy. Except mandatory ICC briefings, the Indian Cricket Board’s (BCCI) media policies have made Dhoni elusive Rain could play spoilsport during the second semifinal at the Sophia Gardens here and if the match is washed out, India will go through to the final in Birmingham on June 23 having topped their group. Equal on points, but due to an inferior run-rate, the Lankans finished at the second spot behind England in group A. Dhoni is not thinking about a washout and said the team was planning as it would normally do before every game. "Of course, the teams know each other so well that we can save those extra 10-15 minutes spent in strategising during  team meetings," he said tongue-in-cheek.

Sridhar appointed
NEW DELHI, 19 JUNE: M V Sridhar was today appointed manager of the Indian cricket team for the tri-series in the West Indies starting on 28 June. The former cricketer is currently the secretary of the Hyderabad Cricket Association. Arindam Ganguly is the manager of the U-19 team that will participate in a tri-series in Australia later this month, the Board of Control for Cricket in India said today.
sns & agencies