Cardiff: Some will roll their eyes at the thought of another India v Sri Lanka ODI contest, but for the two teams set to clash on Thursday in Cardiff the second semi-final of the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy is a huge game. In fact, it is the biggest they've played in the 50-over format since April 2, 2011 when India beat Sri Lanka by six wickets in Mumbai to lift the World Cup. The winners will move on to the final of the Champions Trophy, in its last instalment, thus having a shot at signing off the tournament with their names engraved on it.
Since the 2011 World Cup final, India have won 28 of 47 ODI contests. Sri Lanka, in the same time, have won just 25 of 60. This period has seen disappointment in plenty for both sides, especially India who were whitewashed in England, failed to make the finals of the CB Series and Asia Cup and then lost a three-match series to Pakistan. Both teams are very familiar with each other - they've played 40 ODIs since July 2008 - and on Thursday at Sophia Gardens will have to rely on all that experience in an attempt to win
In some regards, India v Sri Lanka in the semi-final of a tournament held in England and Wales is not what a natural fit. The conditions generally have not favoured their batsmen, and spinners have not easily found success on surfaces. In fact, the last time these two teams toured England, each suffered series defeats: India 3-0 and Sri Lanka 3-2. But this summer the story has been different.
India have won three matches in a row, beating South Africa (23 runs), West Indies (eight wickets) and Pakistan (eight wickets) to storm into the semi-finals. Their returning opener Shikhar Dhawan is the leading run-getter of the tournament and the aspiring heir to Yuvraj Singh's coveted all rounder's spot, Ravindra Jadeja, the second-highest wicket-taker. Around the success of these two players - one making a comeback after nearly two years, the other continuing a stunning rise that has left critics subdued - India have beaten all in their way. The likes of Rohit Sharma, promoted to open alongside Dhawan, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have also been instrumental; so much so that the struggles of Suresh Raina and Umesh Yadav have not really been felt.
This has made India the favourites to reach the final, but hoping to prove a major irritant it Angelo Mathew's team. Sri Lanka's batting came a cropper in their first game against New Zealand, but inspired by Lasith Malinga's crafty full tosses and yorkers a total of 138 was almost defended. Against England, the batting atoned for the capitulation to New Zealand as former captain Kumar Sangakkara's excellent century helped Sri Lanka chase a target of 294 with seven wickets and 17 balls remaining. Australia were then beaten by 20 runs, with Mahela Jayawardene leading the charge with a silken 84 before all six bowlers employed made a mark in bowling out the opposition. Unlike India, Sri Lanka have not had consistent players like Dhawan, Rohit and Jadeja but yet they have proved a threat to opposing teams. They are a dangerous outfit.
Oddly enough, neither team has managed to beat the other in the Champions Trophy. That's because when the two reached the final of the 2002 edition held in soggy Sri Lanka, both the actual match and the one held on the reserve day were washed out. Sri Lanka and India were declared joint winners, and 11 years later the two rivals will be hoping the elements stay in their favour.
The weather forecast for Cardiff shows a good chance of rain, with overcast conditions adding to the sense of gloom. If the match is unable to be completed, India will progress to the final on the virtue of having topped Group B. Fans on both sides would be expecting the nature of the final to be decided by the bat and ball, not the weather.
India: 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 Rohit Sharma, 3 Virat Kohli, 4 Dinesh Karthik, 5 Suresh Raina, 6 MS Dhoni (capt/wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Ishant Sharma/Irfan Pathan, 11 Umesh Yadav
Sri Lanka: 1 Kusal Perera 2 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 3 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 4 Lahiru Thirimanne, 5 Mahela Jayawardene, 6 Dinesh Chandimal, 7 Angelo Mathews (capt), 8 Nuwan Kulasekara, 9 Rangana Herath, 10 Lasith Malinga, 11 Shaminda Eranga