Can unstoppable India overpower Lankan lions in semis?
Unbeaten so far, a confident India face a massive challenge when they take on sub-continental rivals Sri Lanka in the second semi-final of the ICC Champions Trophy in Cardiff on Thursday.
India are the fancied team on paper but the Lankans are also on a high after defeating both England and Australia en route to the semi-final, which will be a repeat of the 2011 World Cup final in Mumbai.
While India were the first team to make the last four from the tournament's 'Group of Death' with an all-win record, Sri Lanka, a team on the ascendant after a slow start, grabbed the last semi-final berth on Tuesday after warding off a late challenge from Australia.
For the Lankans, the clash against India will be a grudge game of sorts. In the final of the 2011 World Cup at the Wankhede, India outclassed the co-hosts by six wickets, easily chasing down a 275-run target, with skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni laying the coup de grace with a towering six off Nuwan Kulasekara.
Dhawan, Kohli have been on song
While Sri Lanka have retained the core of that 2011 World Cup squad at the Champions Trophy, the Indian team has seen an influx of new blood after Sandeep Patil replaced Krishnamachari Srikkanth as chief selector in September 2012.
Only Dhoni, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina are the remnants of the victorious World Cup squad and the arrival of a set of precocious youth like Ravindra Jadeja and Shikhar Dhawan has had a telling impact on the overall team performance, especially in the field.
The Indians have been on song ever since landing in the UK for the Champions Trophy. The Lankans were the first to face the heat, losing a warm-up game in Birmingham on June 1.
India's batting revolves around a clutch of young men like Shikhar Dhawan, Kohli and Karthik, who have taken the world by storm with their euphoric stroke-making and natural belligerence.
Image: Shikhar Dhawan
India has scored over 300 runs thrice in the tournament so far
India flexed their batting muscle, 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 a mature Lankan attack, spearheaded by Kulasekara and current skipper Angelo Mathews.
India's batting domination has been eloquently 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, dismissed an off-colour Pakistan by an identical margin (D/L method).
Image: Rohit Sharma
Old heroes Jayawardene, Sangakkara still Lanka's mainstay
Sri Lanka, by contrast, have got better with every game. After losing a low-scoring thriller against New Zealand at Cardiff, they bounced back with a commanding seven-wicket victory against England at The Oval.
The Lankans did have some anxious moments against the Aussies, but the 20-run win would have given the islanders a shot in the arm ahead of the semis.
Sri Lanka continue to profit from salty old pros, who still swear by the old charm of silken touch and classy stroke-making.
Sangakkara proved that against England with an unbeaten 134 that had grace written all over it.
Sangakkara, Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan are central to Sri Lanka's batting, and with several young, explosive youngsters like Lahiru Thirimanne, Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal packing the middle order, the match against India should be a contest between quality batsmen.
Image: Kumar Sangakkara
The battle lines are drawn!
A fresh new track has been laid by the Glamorgan ground staff at Sophia Gardens for the semi-final. Chief curator Keith Exton says 280 should be a par score, but 300 will be safe.
With overcast conditions expected on Thursday, the seamers should get early advantage, but batsmen who have been patient and respected the conditions have stood to gain in this competition so far.
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 ICC tournament, the title had to be shared.
But come Thursday, neither history nor the result of a warm-up game will have any consequence.
Like Jayawardene said on Tuesday: "Warm-up games or whatever, it doesn't count right now. It's a big tournament. It's the semi-final... I'll be desperate for every game to win, (as) simple as that."
India will be equally desperate to match the Lankans eyeball to eyeball.
The battle lines are drawn!
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (C), Ravichandran Ashwin, Shikhar Dhawan, Ravindra Jadeja, Dinesh Karthik, Virat Kohli, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Amit Mishra, Irfan Pathan, Suresh Raina, Ishant Sharma, Rohit Sharma, Murali Vijay, Vinay Kumar, Umesh Yadav.
Sri Lanka: Angelo Mathews (C), Dinesh Chandimal, Dilhara Lokuhettige, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Shaminda Eranga, Rangana Herath, Mahela Jayawardene, Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga, Jeevan Mendis, Kusal Perera, Thisara Perera, Kumar Sangakkara, Sachithra Senanayake and Lahiru Thirimanne.
Match starts 1500 IST.
Image: The ICC Champions Trophy is carried off the pitch