India will look to strike a balance between ruthlessness and opportunities to test bench strength when they take on Sri Lanka in a three-game T20I series starting February 24. The two teams meet in the first of three T20Is on Thursday at the Bharat Ratna Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee Ekana Cricket Stadium, Lucknow.
India are licensed to make good use of the bench strength and bolster the staff for the T20 World Cup as they sign some key players for the T20I series. While former skipper Virat Kohli and wicketkeeper-batter Rishabh Pant have been rested, India will miss the services of in-form Suryakumar Yadav and pacesetter Deepak Chahar amid injury concerns.
Both skipper Rohit Sharma and head coach Rahul Dravid have stressed that ahead of the T20 World Cup, India are well aware of what they are looking for and the team will continue to support players with clear roles and expectations along the way.
“We have a pretty good idea of what skills we’re looking for in Australia with the kind of people that are on the run. Not everything is set in stone but we want to give everyone a fair chance to claim those points,” Dravid had said after India beat West Indies 3-0 earlier this week.
The increase in the number of applicants ahead of the World Cup will only be constructive for Team India. Captain Rohit backed Sanju Samson, who returns to the T20I squad for the first time since July 2021, and said he is India’s World Cup plan. It was interesting to see Rohit talk about Samson’s rearfoot play and how it could be useful in Australian conditions, as it gives a little insight into the clarity with which team management weighs their options.
Suryakumar Yadav’s absence from the middle tier certainly gives Samson an opportunity to stake his claim after all the missed opportunities in the past. In Pant’s absence, it could be Samson taking the gloves. It remains to be seen whether India will persist with Ishan Kishan at the top or give the struggling wicketkeeper-batter a mid-tier role.
OPPORTUNITY FOR SHREYAS IYER TO CEMENT PLACE
Kohli not there means Shreyas Iyer will get a chance to settle down, play more overs, score some useful runs and stake a claim for a middle spot, although the former India captain will return to take third place in of heading to claim the World Cup.
The duo of Gaikwad and Iyer failed in the third T20Is against the West Indies and they would hope to impress against Sri Lanka.
One of the highlights of last week was Venkatesh Iyer’s ability to finish games and if he’s able to continue in the same vein against the Islanders while also improving his bowling then Indian team management will be a world-class all-rounder available heading into the showpiece Down Under.
After Suryakumar Yadav was ruled out of the series alongside Deepak Chahar due to injuries, Venkatesh will take on additional responsibilities when it comes to batting in the back 10.
ALL EYES ON THE RETURN OF BUMRAH, JADEJA
All eyes will also be on Ravindra Jadeja, who is back after recovering from an injury that kept him away from the South Africa tour and home series against the West Indies. India is spoiled for choice in the spin department, but Jadeja is expected to start in the first T20I.
Spinner Ravi Bishnoi also impressed in his first T20I series and he will look to march forward with the same momentum.
Pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah has returned to the team to step up the bowling attack and will form a formidable pace bowling unit alongside Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Siraj.
Bhuvneshwar will draw confidence from his good performance against the West Indies, particularly in the death overs.
As for Sri Lanka, the side suffered a 4-1 defeat against Australia and were repeatedly let down by hits. Skipper Dasun Shanaka would be hoping their punches against India would come together.
Bowling needs a quick recovery as star leg spinner Wanindu Hasaranga was ruled out of the series after failing to recover from his Covid-19 infection. Spin bowling sensation Mahesh Theekshana could also miss the series opener due to a minor issue.
INDIA VS SRI LANKA, 1ST T20I PREDICTED MATCH XI
INDIA: Ruturaj Gaikwad, Rohit Sharma (Captain), Shreyas Iyer, Ishan Kishan (Wicketkeeper), Sanju Samson, Venkatesh Iyer, Ravindra Jadeja, Harshal Patel, Ravi Bishnoi, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah.
SRI LANKA: Pathum Nissanka, Danushka Gunathilaka, Kamil Mishara (wicketkeeper), Dinesh Chandimal, Charith Asalanka, Dasun Shanaka (captain), Chamika Karunaratne, Jeffrey Vandersay, Praveen Jayawickrama, Dushmantha Chameera, Lahiru Kumara.