After the convincing 3-0 win in last month’s Twenty20 series in Australia, the home series against Sri Lanka that starts on Tuesday must seem like a mere formality for an Indian side high on confidence. However, if history suggests anything at all, this series will be anything but a stroll for the home side.
India have a 3-3 record against Sri Lanka in this format, but it is their World Cup record against the islanders that will prove worrisome for MS Dhoni’s men. Rewind to the 2014 World T20 final – it was Lasith Malinga’s men who broke their final hoodoo to triumph over Dhoni’s boys in Dhaka.
The Indians did not fare much better in the 2010 World T20 when they succumbed to a last-ball finish in Gros Islet, St. Lucia in a group stage match. Being played a mere month before the World T20, this series against the world’s No 3 T20 side is a good chance for the home side to prove their title credentials, especially considering that they have been drafted into a tough group alongside Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan.
For one man in particular, this series will be more about redemption than anything else. Yuvraj Singh endured a horror show against the Lankans in the 2014 final, eking out a 21-ball 11 during the most crucial part of the innings, leading to India sub-par total.
Back in the squad and having had a fairly decent series against Australia, the Punjab left-hander will look to settle scores once and for all. The 33-year-old looks like he has got a new lease of life but he will still have to perform to retain hopes of getting into the final World Cup T20 squad. Fail to do so, and no doubt, the vultures will start circling again.
Finding the right combination
India’s best player in Australia, Virat Kohli, has been given a well-deserved rest. This will give captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni the chance to tinker with his middle-order to find his best combination. Although Suresh Raina, Kohli, Rohit Sharma and Dhoni pick themselves in the squad based on past exploits and current form, India’s middle order still remains a worry with the finisher’s positions – numbers five, six and seven far from settled.
Shikhar Dhawan for one will be looking to cement his place in the final XI for the World Twenty20. The opener has had an up-and-down season so far. With Ajinkya Rahane, Yuvraj Singh, Ravindra Jadeja and new boy Hardik Pandya all jostling for places, the competition is fierce.
Pawan Negi, the 23-year-old rookie who was selected for this series in place of Kohli, must be feeling confident after being sold for a whopping Rs 8.5 crore at the Indian Premier League auction on Saturday. Negi did well in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament, where he scored 173 runs for Delhi and bagged six wickets in nine matches. Rishi Dhawan, Gurkeerat Singh Man and Umesh Yadav miss out, while Manish Pandey and Bhuvneshwar Kumar get a look in.
A return of two veterans
This will also be an intriguing tale of two returning 36-year-old pacers. While Ashish Nehra played all the three T20 matches against Australia, Dilhara Fernando will return to the Sri Lankan squad after almost two years on the back of his performances in the domestic Premier T20 tournament. Fernando finished as the third highest wicket-taker with 11 wickets at an economy rate of 8.40.
His experience will be key considering that Malinga and Mathews are out owing to injuries and the Lankans just lost a recent T20 series to New Zealand 2-0. Leading the side in Malinga’s absence will be Dinesh Chandimal. An injury to Tillakaratne Dilshan also means that wicketkeeper-batsman Niroshan Dickwella has been called up to the squad and most probably will play the first match.
One player to watch out for will be middle-order batsman Dasun Shanaka, who set the domestic T20 tournament alight with his performances. Spinner Ajantha Mendis still does not find a place despite a good show with the ball (12 wickets) in the same tournament.
In comparison with the World Twenty20 and the Asia Cup thereafter, this may look like a low-key series. But, Dhoni will not mind – it gives him an opportunity to play around with his team and figure out his winning combination. In many ways, this will be the perfect starter for the delectable main course that is coming up next month.