Dambulla - Sri Lanka set off into the unknown in 2015 when Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene packed away their One-Day International jerseys. Two years on though, the team has still not found adequate replacements for the legends.

Fortunately, every transition has a destination, and Sri Lanka will be praying for the ride to end now. They’re up against an in-form India though, and things won't be easy in the first match of a five One-Day International series at the Rangiri Dambulla International stadium on Sunday. But while on paper it looks improbable that Upul Tharanga's injury-hit unit will put it across India, the team will be hoping for just that, along with the rest of the country.

Sri Lanka’s desire to fight and put on a show in doing so is what made the team world champions over two decades ago. Since then, it has maintained the template to humble some of the finest teams in world cricket. The current crop's aim will be to reach those highs again.

It hasn’t been easy for them to come to terms with Sangakkara and Jayawardene leaving in tandem. It didn’t help either that Tillakaratne Dilshan walked into the sunset in 2016.

On the other hand, Virat Kohli’s men are on a mission to win absolutely everything and dominate like no other team before or after. Having the right pieces in the right places has helped the team on a journey as ambitious as this.  

That said, there are a couple of positions that could see some movement during this series, but these are just the minor pieces. Crucial enough to ponder over in preparation for the ICC World Cup 2019, but not particularly pressing at this juncture.

One is the toss up for the middle-order slot between Manish Pandey and Kedar Jadhav, and the other is a which-horse-for-this-course issue in the spin department.

Addressing the first issue, Pandey is coming off a great India A tour and is trying to establish a permanent spot in the side. While he’s electric with the bat and as vivacious on the field, he’s competing against someone who has turned into a game-changer for India. Jadhav wasn’t among runs in the West Indies but his swashbuckling style of play warrants a spot, and not to forget he’s been more than handy with a ball in hand too. Also, Jadhav isn’t particularly picky with his batting position and that offers far more flexibility, not something Pandey has extended so far. 

In the battle for the two spin slots, Yuzvendra Chahal should find himself on the field, wielding his leg-breaks. Between Kuldeep Yadav and Axar Patel there’s little to choose from. The former is a young and promising chinaman with a deadly googly. The latter is a left-arm spinner with flight-varying guile as a strength.

As far as the pace unit is concerned, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah will lead the way with Hardik Pandya doubling up as the third paceman.

The most intriguing case will that of the former captain though. MS Dhoni has been a crucial cog in India’s transition in one-day cricket since his debut in 2004, but his form has not been as swashbuckling as it once was. At 36, he’s still one of the fittest members in the side, but his body isn’t so much the issue at this point. His powers as a hard-hitting finisher seem to be on the wane, and with the selectors focussed on prepping the right side for the 2019 World Cup, he might feel the pressure - not that you can tell with Dhoni.

For Sri Lanka, the fact that Angelo Mathews is expected to bowl this series gives Tharanga the breathing space to play two frontline pacemen - Lasith Malinga and Vishwa Fernando (the debutant) - and rely on the two young spinners in Akila Dananjaya and Lakshan Sandakan.

Sri Lanka's side is competent enough, but will it prove adequate against India's juggernaut is the question.


SRI LANKA (LIKELY): Upul Tharanga (capt), Angelo Mathews, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Danushka Gunathilaka, Kusal Mendis, Chamara Kapugedera, Wanidu Hasaranga, Lakshan Sandakan, Thisara Perera, Lasith Malinga, Vishwa Fernando.

INDIA (LIKELY): Virat Kohli (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma (vice-capt), KL Rahul, Kedar Jadhav, MS Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar.