Resurgent India impress Jayawardene
Sri Lanka's Mahela Jayawardene is under no illusions about the scale of the task confronting his side when they face India in a Champions Trophy semifinal in Cardiff on Thursday.
The latest high-profile one-day international contest between the teams is a repeat of the 2011 World Cup final in Mumbai.
That clash saw the 36-year-old Jayawardene make unwanted history by becoming the first man to score a century in a World Cup final yet finish on the losing side, with India victorious by six wickets.
On Monday, Jayawardene was in the runs again, but on the winning side, with his unbeaten 84 helping secure a 20-run victory over defending champions Australia at The Oval that booked Sri Lanka's place in the last four.
Jayawardene saw India beat Sri Lanka in a warm-up match at Edgbaston earlier this month and has been impressed by their form in the tournament proper.
"I think they're playing some really good cricket," he said. "Their batting looks really strong, so that's a key area we need to focus a bit on."
The India team set to take the field in Cardiff has been transformed so dramatically in the past two years it will likely feature just three players – captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni plus batsmen Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli – who appeared in the World Cup final.
India were the only side in the group stage of this Champions Trophy with a perfect record following wins over South Africa, the West Indies and arch-rivals Pakistan.
Hard-hitting opener Shikhar Dhawan, the mainstay of the India batting praised by Jayawardene, is the tournament's leading scorer so far with 264 runs including two hundreds.
The influx of youth has also seen a marked improvement in India's fielding and this has backed up a well-balanced attack featuring left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja and seamers Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav.
However, with yorker specialist Lasith Malinga leading the way, Sri Lanka can tame any top order.
Jayawardene, who in the course of his innings against Australia became the eighth player to score 11 000 ODI runs, added: "Warm-up games, or whatever, don't count right now.
"We are playing hard and passionate cricket. That has been the mantra of our success in the past and I hope it continues in the future also."
India's recent results have been a tonic for fans at home reeling from a spot-fixing scandal in the Indian Premier League that led to the arrest of three players, including test fast bowler Shanthakumaran Sreesanth.
But, regardless of India's off-field problems, the national side's prospects look bright.
"This is the team of the future," Kapil Dev, India's 1983 World Cup-winning captain, told AFP. "They are playing fearless cricket."
Wicketkeeper-batsman Dhoni, demonstrated the calm approach admired by Kumar, among others, when he said: "There are, hopefully, still two more matches to go and we must play with the same intensity that we have shown so far."
The one thing that could spoil an intriguing match is rain.
Bad weather in Cardiff saw South Africa knock out the West Indies on a Duckworth/Lewis tie and cut England's eventual 10-run win over New Zealand to a 24 overs per side contest.
There is provision for a 'super over' in the event of a tie on Thursday but if rain causes a no-result, India will go through to face either England or South Africa, who meet on Wednesday, in Sunday's final at Edgbaston on account of having won Group B, with Sri Lanka runners-up in Group A.