PORT OF SPAIN (AFP) – India and Sri Lanka meet yet again, this time in the final of the Tri-Nation Series at Queen's Park Oval on Thursday, amid increasing speculation that Mahendra Singh Dhoni will be back to the lead the World Cup and Champions Trophy holders.
Dhoni sustained a right hamstring strain while batting against the West Indies in his team's first match of the tournament on June 30 at Sabina Park in Kingston and an announcement was made the following day that he was ruled out of the rest of the competition with uncapped batsman Ambati Rayudu being flown in as his replacement.
However India's most successful captain ever has remained with the squad, and while there has as yet been no official word from the touring party, his presence on the field in pre-match warm-ups and in full team uniform during and after the final preliminary fixture against the Sri Lankans on Tuesday increase the likelihood that he will be back as at the helm for the final.
Stand-in captain Virat Kohli hinted as much at the toss ahead of the comprehensive victory over Angelo Mathews' side when he expressed hope that Dhoni had been recovering well enough to be able to play if they had gotten through to the final.
Should he be passed fit, it is expected that Murali Vijay will make way for the man increasingly regarded as the finest international captain in the contemporary game.
With or without Dhoni though, India are bracing for a much tougher Sri Lankan challenge than what transpired on Tuesday when fast-medium bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar produced the outstanding figures of four for eight and engineered the demolition of the 1996 World Cup winners for just 96.
Sri Lanka had all but qualified for the final ahead of that encounter and their performance with the bat on the way to an 81-run defeat on the Duckworth/Lewis Scoring Method reflected a noticeable lack of intensity that is not expected to be repeated in the final.
They have their own injury concerns with a question mark lingering over the availability of fast-medium bowler Nuwan Kulasekara, who injured a finger on his left hand while attempting to take a return catch of Chris Gayle in the match against the West Indies that concluded on Monday.
Given the almost inevitable intervention of inclement weather at the start of the rainy season in the Caribbean, the toss is again expected to be a key factor on Thursday morning while both teams will be tailoring their tactics in keeping with the unsettled conditions in the air and the green, seamer-friendly pitch that should make for an intriguing duel.