India’s place in the semifinals of the 2019 Cricket World Cup is assured, and they will use this final group match against Sri Lanka as a chance to sharpen their skills ahead of more difficult battles to come.
As for the Sri Lankans, they are playing for pride rather than points now, but they will want to sign off their campaign with a strong showing at Headingley on Saturday.
With six wins from seven completed matches so far, it’s little wonder that India is such a comfortable favorite (-650) with the bookmakers to end their group campaign with another.
Only the most optimistic of Sri Lankan supporters will be backing their team here, but if you have seen enough from them to suggest they can topple the Indians, you can get them at +450.
You could forgive the Sri Lankan bowlers if they had a sleepless night ahead of this encounter.
They will have the unenviable task of trying to put the shackles on Rohit Sharma, the tournament’s leading run scorer, KL Rahul, who made 77 last time out against Bangladesh, and, of course, Virat Kohli, who has compiled five half-centuries in just seven innings to date.
And that’s before we even mention the big hitting style of Hardik Pandya and MS Dhoni, and the ever unpredictable Rishabh Pant.
Somehow, the Sri Lankans have to find a way of restricting India to a score of below 300, whether they are setting or chasing. That’s a feat that was achieved by both the West Indies and Afghanistan, so it’s by no means impossible, and Headingley is one of the few grounds where ball can compete with bat.
That would give Sri Lanka some hope, but they would also have to bat well against an Indian attack featuring Jasprit Bumrah, arguably the top seamer in world cricket, Mohammed Shami (14 wickets in four games) and the spin twins of Chahal and Kuldeep.
The implication is that the Sri Lankans will have to perform something like their absolute best – and hope India has an off-day – if they are to somehow win this game.
They will need big performances with the blade from Kusal Perera, who has been outstanding in the competition thus far, and the unique Avishka Fernando, who made a thrilling 104 in the victory over the West Indies on Monday. The stalwart Angelo Mathews is still capable of a match-winning performance as well.
The history books tell us that Headingley is a ground where the ball will nibble around off the seam while accepting spin too. There were just 444 runs scored when Sri Lanka battled England in Yorkshire, and 457 when Pakistan tackled Afghanistan, so this is a difficult ground both to set a total on and in chasing it down.
The seam bowlers can hit their straps at Headingley and enjoy some support from the pitch, without the need to dig into their bag of tricks too much, and that will please Jasprit Bumrah and India no end.
They are a better team in typically English conditions than Sri Lanka, and we expect them to finish their group campaign in fine style with a victory here.