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RCB bank on home advantage in bid to stay alive



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For the first time this season, Royal Challengers Bangalore have picked up wins in successive matches, both away from home. Now with their campaign on the line, they return to home comforts to take on table-toppers Sunrisers Hyderabad. Irrespective of how other results pan out, wins in both their matches is non-negotiable for RCB, although mathematical possibilities could see them miraculously enter the playoffs even with just one win. That’s a route they wouldn’t want to take, however.

Each of their three recent wins, against Mumbai Indians, Delhi Daredevils and Kings XI Punjab, have been a result of stupendous bowling performances, led superbly by Umesh Yadav. Four of their wins overall have come while chasing, with either AB de Villiers making a half-century or Virat Kohli steering them through. Now against the best bowling attack of the tournament, they will need more players to up their game.

RCB concede 12.17 per over in the death overs, the highest by a team this season. Their ability to chase notwithstanding, a strong finish with the ball is mandatory, if they are to chase, against an attack that has a history of defending small targets. Sunrisers are already assured of a top-two finish. This means they could look at giving a few of their back-up players an opportunity without hampering the team’s balance. It’s also as good an opportunity as any for the misfiring Manish Pandey to hit form at the ground he calls home.

In the news

Wriddhiman Saha is recovering from a shoulder injury and should slot back in if the team management deems his recovery satisfactory. This could mean a return to the bench for Shreevats Goswami.

Previous meeting

Sunrisers’ bowling might came to their rescue. They huffed and puffed to 146 after losing 7 for 34, but outstanding death bowling – they gave away just 19 off their last three overs – helped pull off a coup, with RCB falling five short.

Likely XIs

Royal Challengers Bangalore 1 Virat Kohli (capt), 2 Parthiv Patel (wk), 3 Moeen Ali, 4 AB de Villiers, 5 Mandeep Singh, 6 Sarfaraz Khan, 7 Colin de Grandhomme, 8 Tim Southee, 9 Umesh Yadav, 10 Mohammed Siraj, 11 Yuzvendra Chahal

Sunrisers Hyderabad 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 Alex Hales, 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Manish Pandey, 5 Deepak Hooda, 6 Shakib Al Hasan, 7 Shreevats Goswami/Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 8 Rashid Khan, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Siddarth Kaul, 11 Sandeep Sharma

Strategic punt

  • Kohli has scored 30 or more in four out of five RCB wins this season. Against Sunrisers, he’s made 473 at 59.1 and a strike rate of 145.1, so getting him out early is paramount. If you’re Sunrisers, your two best men for the job are Rashid Khan and Sandeep Sharma. The RCB captain has stuttered against legspin this season, managing just 75 runs from 65 balls and losing his wicket three times in eight innings. And while he has had his share of success against Sandeep, whom he has slapped for 56 runs in 33 balls, Kohli has fallen to him five times in eight innings.

  • RCB can look to counter the Alex Hales threat by bringing on his England teammate Moeen Ali. Hales has scored at a run a ball off the 17 balls he has faced from Moeen and perished to him twice in three innings. Hales, in fact, has struggled against all kinds of spin bowlers this season. He has 22 runs off the 31 balls he has faced from them and perished to them twice in three innings.

Stats that matter

  • RCB have won three of the last five meetings between these two sides at this venue. And the players to have won it for them (no prizes for guessing): de Villiers twice and Kohli once.

  • Since Sunrisers came into existence, RCB have never held a superior head-to-head record against them. While they were even in the first three seasons with one victory each, Sunrisers have bettered RCB in each of the last three seasons: 2-1 in 2016, and 1-0 in 2017 and 2018.

  • De Villiers feasts on this Sunrisers bowling attack. None of Sunrisers’ main bowlers has a favourable record against de Villiers. Overall, he has plundered 380 runs off the 219 balls he has faced from them, averaging 42.2 and striking at 173.5.

  • Several big names are approaching important milestones. Kohli needs 68 runs to notch up 5000 career IPL runs, while Shikhar Dhawan is 70 away from 4000 and Kane Williamson needs 45 to hit 1000.

Fantasy pick

Dhawan is one of the reasons Sunrisers haven’t felt the absence of David Warner. He is their second-highest run-scorer and is now riding on successive half-centuries. Moreover, his record at the Chinnaswamy makes him a favourable pick: 246 runs in eight T20 innings at an average of 49.2 and a best of 73 not out.

Sandeep has had an outstanding IPL. His economy rate of 5.83 is the best this season and goes alongside eight wickets at 22.62. A proven, consistent performer who doesn’t really eat into your purse. What else do you need?

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Samarawickrama pleads for patience as Sri Lanka seeks form resurgence



Sri Lanka’s fans have been unhappy with the ODI side for almost two years – that much is abundantly clear. Through that period, fans have expressed their dismay with a minor protest in Dambulla, a pelting of empty plastic bottles on to the field in Pallekele, and with this decade’s most popular insult medium: the social media meme.

Disenchantment with the team and the nation’s cricket establishment was perhaps higher last year, when Thilanga Sumathipala and Sanath Jayasuriya had forged a wildly unpopular partnership as board president and chief selector. But the ODI team hasn’t exactly turned its form around since both those made their exits. With 32 losses from the last 42 completed ODIs now, even junior players making their way into the side, such as 23-year-old batsman Sadeera Samarawickrama, are having to contend with public displeasure.

“I know the spectators must be very disappointed about the way we have played,” Samarawickrama said ahead of the fourth ODI. “But we also want to turn it around. We want to see the fans happy. We want to go from a losing mentality to a winning one.”

That the World Cup is on the horizon is, of course, of particular worry for Sri Lanka fans, with hope diminishing that the team will be able to hit form by the time the big tournament comes around in June. For Samarawickrama, though, the World Cup is too far away to worry about just yet.

“If we think too much about the World Cup right now, we’ll be under even more pressure when we get to the next match,” he said. “So what we have to do is to take it series by series and match by match as a team.We’ve still got three series before the World Cup.”

On a personal note, Samarawickrama was pleased to be offered the opening position, having scored most of his domestic runs as an opener, and he appears to have been given assurances that he will stay in that position, for now. He is the fifth batsman who has played in that position this year for Sri Lanka, with Kusal Mendis, Upul Tharanga, Danushka Gunathilaka, and Niroshan Dickwella being the others.

Samarawickrama’s first run in the role produced a middling performance – he hit 35 off 34 balls in a 21-over game.

“I really like to open the innings. When they told me I’d be opening, I got a lot of confidence. It’s not that I don’t like batting in the middle order, but that I like to play at the top. I was able to handle the pressure because in the recent past it’s while I’ve been opening that I’ve scored a lot of runs. I took that confidence forward. I didn’t put it in my head that I was playing England, or think too seriously about it. I just did the basics.”

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Confident England seek to close out rain-impacted ODI series



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A fortnight into England’s tour of Sri Lanka, and a pattern has settled over the cricket that has so far been possible. Invitingly clear skies in the mornings have invariably given way to torrential afternoon downpours and if, in between whiles, there’s been enough opportunity to get a contest underway, then the players have slotted into whatever windows present themselves.

It’s not exactly ideal, but for England – 2-0 up after three truncated contests and with a share of the series secured – they are at least passing their first significant test in this, the final approach to their 2019 World Cup campaign. For Sri Lanka, ill-balanced in the absence of Angelo Mathews and over-reliant on rare moments of individual brilliance, their only realistic target is respectability.

Plenty has been said about the timing of this tour, not least by the ECB themselves, who felt obliged to defend its scheduling in a post on social media during Wednesday’s six-hour rain delay.

But somehow, in spite of everything, we’ve been treated to a pair of entertaining contests so far – with England having to withstand a renaissance performance from Lasith Malinga in the opening contest in Dambulla, before outsmarting their opponents in a 21-over thrash at Pallekele on Wednesday.

Who knows what bearing any of this will have on England’s sterner tests to come in the new year, but they’ve given off the sense of a side with more gears to power through if required. Neither Jos Buttler nor Moeen Ali needed to bat during the run-chase in the third ODI, while Eoin Morgan, the captain, referred to the “good frustrations” in the England dressing-room after that same game, given that players of the calibre of Alex Hales, Sam Curran and Mark Wood can’t even get into the team at present. That said, there is a concern that Jonny Bairstow may have damaged his ankle playing football, which may present Hales with a chance to reclaim his opening berth.

Sri Lanka, for their part, need a measure of consistency above all else. Their implosion in the third match was a case in point – 55 for 0 after five overs, 95 for 9 in their remaining 15, with Niroshan Dickwella’s blazing intro proving insufficient to ignite a competitive total. Then there’s the hot and cold performance of Malinga to consider. He was stunning in adversity in Dambulla, his five wickets showcasing all the old tricks that many feared he could no longer deliver. And yet four days later, his powder-puff display in Pallekele later seemed to deflate the entire attack.

Anything can happen in the course of a one-day international, particularly when Messrs Duckworth, Lewis and Stern get involved in the permutations. But it is hard to see how the narrative of this leg of the tour can be changed in a hurry. England look to have too much in reserve, Sri Lanka already seem to be stretched beyond their limits. A rare win in Asian conditions is very much on the cards, but it’s as much a reflection on Sri Lanka’s struggles as England’s excellence that, should it come to pass, it is unlikely to feel like a seismic triumph.

Form guide

Sri Lanka LLLLW (last five completed matches, most recent first)

England WWWWL

In the spotlight

He spent much of the summer in the shadow of his younger brother, as Sam Curran cut a dash during the India Test series. But after taking advantage of Liam Dawson’s misfortune, Tom Curran stepped into the vacancy to serve a reminder of the uncanny confidence he exudes whenever he’s armed with a white ball. His four overs in Wednesday’s 21-over thrash were masterfully delivered – his full repertoire of variations helped to check Sri Lanka’s rampant early progress before he returned at the death to pick off the lower order for figures of 3 for 17. It was a reminder of how valuable it can be to have a bowler in your ranks who wants to be the hero, and if he’s not yet inked into England’s first-choice World Cup XI, he’s rapidly making a case for the final 15.

There wasn’t a lot for Amila Aponso to write home about after his solitary outing during the Asia Cup – it was his first ODI in more than a year, and only his seventh all told, and his figures of 1 for 55 in nine overs proved incapable of slowing Bangladesh’s progress towards a 137-run win. But at Pallekele on Wednesday, no-one did more than him to give Sri Lanka a grain of hope in their defence of a sub-par 150. After opening the bowling, ostensibly to target the frailty of Jason Roy against left-arm spin, he bagged Jonny Bairstow straightaway, then bowled Joe Root through the gate one over later. He was powerless to prevent England surging past their target when he returned for his final over, but there was a confidence to his bowling which may manifest itself better over 10 overs rather than four – if the weather gives him a chance to settle into a longer spell.

Team news

Kusal Mendis stepped into the vacancy created by Kusal Perera’s quad strain, but his first-ball duck made it three blobs in a row since his Asia Cup meltdown, and suggested that his place in the team is once again in peril. Upul Tharanga, who made way for the 21-over match, is likely to slot back into the side, though possibly at No.3, with Sadeera Samarawickrama expected to be given the chance to build on his 34-ball 35. Dinesh Chandimal, who missed the post-match presentations on Wednesday after suffering a bout of dizziness, is expected to be fit to lead the side once more.

Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Sadeera Samarawickrama, 2 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 3 Upul Tharanga, 4 Dinesh Chandimal (capt), 5 Dhananjaya de Silva, 6 Dasun Shanaka, 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Akila Dananjaya, 9 Amila Aponso, 10 Lasith Malinga, 11 Nuwan Pradeep

Bairstow did not appear for the rest of training after appearing to turn his ankle during a warm-up game of football. Hales is on standby to take over at the top of the order. Liam Plunkett has arrived in Sri Lanka and is ready to resume his deck-hitting mid-innings role after emerging unscathed from his wedding last week. But with Olly Stone impressing in his first outing of the tour, there’s no guarantee that he’ll be reclaiming his place straightaway.

England (probable): 1 Jason Roy, 2 Jonny Bairstow/Alex Hales, 3 Joe Root, 4 Eoin Morgan (capt), 5 Ben Stokes, 6 Jos Buttler (wk), 7 Moeen Ali, 8 Chris Woakes, 9 Tom Curran, 10 Adil Rashid, 11 Olly Stone

Pitch and conditions

Shockingly, it didn’t rain in Kandy on Thursday, and Friday has dawned rather pleasant as well. Which, inevitably, means that the weather on match-day is forecast to be torrential. Nevertheless, after some heroic work from the Pallekele groundstaff, mostly involving the judicious positioning of several acres of blue tarpaulins, the actual pitch for the third ODI proved to be dry and true, with good carry for the seamers and a bit of purchase for the spinners – as Adil Rashid demonstrated with a pinpoint googly.

Stats and trivia

  • Sri Lanka have won just one of their last six ODIs at Pallekele. That came against South Africa, by 3 runs, in August.

  • To find an innings in which Dinesh Chandimal has hit a half-century at or better than a run a ball, you have to go back to June 2016. He has played 26 innings since then.

  • After making headlines earlier in the tour by admitting he would consider dropping himself for the World Cup if his form didn’t merit selection, Eoin Morgan has racked up four fifties in his last five ODI innings, scoring 305 runs at 152.50 in that period.


“Hopefully we’ll be able to capitalise on good starts through our middle order in the coming games. We’ve talked about that and formulated a plan about batting in the middle now.”
Sadeera Samarawickrama hopes to bring an end ot Sri Lanka’s batting woes

“We have to keep winning as a unit. People have come in and it’s about confidence that you can beat anyone in any condition. People say you never win away from home in the past, you struggle when you travel and when it’s spinning, but we’ve shown now we can win in any conditions..”
Liam Plunkett is pleased for his team-mates after rejoining the squad in the wake of his wedding

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Crestfallen Paine confronts batting woes



A week after rejoicing in the saving of a Test match they had never been in, Tim Paine’s Australians were flattened by the fact they had been beaten out of sight in a game that, at lunch on day one, was theirs for the taking.

Through Nathan Lyon’s burst of four wickets in six balls, Pakistan had been 5 for 57 in Abu Dhabi, their plight summed up by the coach Mickey Arthur holding his head in his hands. Yet somehow the captain Sarfraz Ahmed and the debutant Fakhar Zaman wriggled free to help the hosts to a defensible 282, and Australia then collapsed obligingly in both innings.

It meant that two of Australia’s four heaviest defeats had taken place in their past three Tests, with Paine at the helm for both. Though this team had made numerous strides since the humiliation of Johannesburg in the wake of the ball tampering scandal, the sense of an opportunity lost hung heavy in Paine’s thoughts. He has clearly run the day one lunch break through his mind many times already.

“It’s bitterly disappointing no doubt,” he said. “We had some momentum from the first Test, started really well here and then from 5 for 57 it went a bit pear-shaped to be honest, all over the field. It’s hard to swallow, I’d love to go back to that lunch break and come back out and start again but we just weren’t up to it, weren’t able to sustain it for long enough.

“It’s disappointing. We came here to win this series and we did ok in the first Test and showed at least some fight and the style and brand of cricket we wanted to play in that second innings and then to come out and do that this Test, it’s kind of like we’ve taken one step forward and then two steps back. So it’s really frustrating.”

Adding to Paine’s sense of irritation was the fact that the low quality of Australia’s batting, particularly in the first innings of both Tests, reflected a wider pattern, not only for the national team but also the domestic system beneath. Sheffield Shield hundreds have been in dwindling supply for some time, leaving it unsurprising that in their past six Tests, the Australians have averaged a dismal 236 in their first innings, comfortably more than 100 short of the average tally for winning Test matches teams over the history of the long-form.

“There’s no doubt this has been happening for too long for the Australian cricket team, not just our Test team but probably domestically, there’s a lot of collapses throughout our batting group,” Paine said. “A lot of it can be technical, some guys will be mental and other guys will be tactical or your plans not being right for certain bowlers. There’s no shying away from the fact we’ve got a hell of a lot of work to do with our batting, and that’s not just this team, it’s throughout the whole country.

“Guys that are testing our defence for long enough, whether that’s spin or medium pace or quick bowlers are getting rewards, and I think teams around the world are probably recognising that and knowing if they can just keep at us, keep at us, keep at us, these collapses are happening.

“When you give them a bit of a sniff of that, they’re always in the game and they always feel like they’re not far away. So great Australian teams of the past have been completely the opposite of that, it’s hard to get players out, then the next guy comes in and it starts all over again. We know as a batting group and as a team we’re certainly a long way off the finished product, and we’ve got some work to do.”

Asked to identify where improvement must be found ahead of the home Test series against India, Paine homed in once more on Australia’s batting. “We keep having these collapses and we keep talking about it,” he said. “I thought the fight we showed in the second innings of the first Test was outstanding and I thought the guys applied themselves really well and actually showed themselves and people around the world that when we do play our best we are up to it. But it’s just at the moment there’s a really big gap between our best and our worst and we need to become more consistent.

“I don’t know what the stats are but they don’t lie. It’d be interesting to have a look at. Certainly within our Test team we’re not scoring the 100s that Test teams should be scoring, and past Australian teams have. It’s something that the guys are working so hard at doing, and we’re seeing small glimpses of it at times, but it’s just being able to repeat that and bat for a long time, and put bowling attacks back under pressure, and we haven’t been able to do it.

“Some guys will have different issues to other guys, but it’s about finding what works for you and being able to be strong mentally to stick to it when we’re under pressure in test cricket. Everyone that’s played out in this Test team we know is a very good player when they’re playing well, we’ve just got to be able to take it out onto the Test arena when guys like Yasir [Shah] and Mohammad [Abbas] are coming at us and have belief in your plans. If you get through them for an hour or so then they get tired, you get bad balls. At the moment we have not been able to get through those challenging periods.”

For Paine and the rest of the touring team some more challenging periods lie ahead before the next Test in Adelaide in December. The Twenty20 squad remains in the UAE, the as yet unannounced ODI squad warms up for a series against South Africa, and the rest have numerous rounds of the Sheffield Shield before reconvening – provided they are selected.

“Clearly it’d be a pretty exciting time to be a batsman around Shield cricket at the moment if you’re scoring hundreds,” Paine said. “There’s no doubt about that. There’s opportunity for everyone and the batting group that are here are also a part of that.”

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