London: When the match between India and Sri Lanka commenced at the Oval on Thursday, one could only see tricolours. The boisterous Indian support kept on rallying behind the 'Men in Blue' for 75 overs on an overcast day in the English capital.
There was the 'Mexican Wave', the dhol and the bhangra and the usual 'jeetega bhai jeetega India jeetega chants' all through. But as the duo of Danushka Gunathilaka and Kusal Mendis took centrestage and put the Lankans right back into the match, the Sri Lankan fans started making an appearance in the crowd. By the time Sri Lanka skipper Angelo Mathews and Gunaratne wrapped up the chase in the 49th over, the Indian tricolours had vanished and the Sri Lankan Lion was out there to be seen by all. Yes, David had beaten Goliath and how.
Sri Lanka know they have punched above their weight and Mathews was clear about that in the post-match press conference.
"No one expects us to win and that is the best thing for us. But we showed what we can do if we play freely and express ourselves. We can beat any team. We are still the underdogs," the Sri Lankan skipper added.
Sri Lanka's victory a day after Pakistan shocked South Africa has completely changed the script in Group B. The remaining matches, between India and South Africa at the Oval on Sunday and Sri Lanka and Pakistan at Cardiff on Monday are virtual quarter-finals and Indian captain Virat Kohli said the team will be ready for the fight.
"This is great for the tournament. There will be more competitive cricket in the last two games of the group and as a team we are ready for it," Kohli said.
But what Kohli didn't say is that India's batting is falling in the same trap over and over again. When asked if the team lost steam between the 25th and the 40th over, the Indian captain took the easy route of saying that he thought the batsmen had put enough runs on the board.
It is high time Kohli and the Indian team management addressed the fact that they have been guilty of playing a templated format in one-day internationals, at least when playing away from home.
On the Indian pitches, Kohli has and before him Dhoni had the option of going to his spinners in crunch situations, but on these flat tracks in England, India needs to put up a total in excess of 350 in order to assure victory.
The Champions Trophy in England is India's biggest one-day tournament outside the sub-continent since the five-match ODI series in Australia in January 2016 and the comparisons of this loss with the ones in the first three matches of that series are inevitable.
In all those three matches, India had one of the top three batsmen scoring a century. And in all three of those matches too India had plenty of wickets in hand in the backend of the innings and looked good for scores in excess of 350 around the 35-over mark. But they didn't reach that figure, scoring less 310 in the first two of the matches and under 300 in the third. Needless to say, India lost all those three matches.
This plan of keeping wickets in hand and then to go for a final flourish is a good one to have, but there are times when you need to go harder at the ball even in the middle overs in order to give the team the chance to still get a bigger score even if a few over don't go your way in the death.
With teams like England scoring more than a run-a-ball in this format over the past year or two, India definitely needs to re-think its batting strategy in one-day internationals.
Another thing that India needs to think about very hard ahead of the final game is the inclusion of star spinner Ravichandran Ashwin. He is clearly not in India's ODI plans outside the sub-continent but against a South African side, which has a fair number of left-handers in the middle order, Ashwin's inclusion is a must.
Virat Kohli too said in the post-match press conference that he is open to any kind of team combination and a final call on the same will be taken closer to the game. It is clear that there is a very big chance Ashwin will play the final match.
But who does he replace in the final XI? Virat's penchant for a seam bowling all-rounder might save Hardik Pandya the axe which could then fall on Kedar Jadhav. Ravindra Jadeja had a poor day with the ball against Sri Lanka, but he is too much of an integral part of this unit to be dropped for a do-or-die match.
The options are there for Kohli and Kumble to reflect upon and it all makes for an interesting two days until India take to the Oval to take on the 'chokers' of world cricket.
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