Preview: Decider – India v/s Sri Lanka

T20 Series: 1-1 heading into the third match

Visakhapatnam, India

It’s a bit disheartening to grasp the fact that the Indian team, which is now ranked No. 1 in T20s (Sri Lanka are defending World Champions), fresh from a 3-0 mauling of Australia down under, fell like a pack of cards on a green top in home conditions. Their performance at Pune was startling and harebrained, reminding us that while they’re young and aggressive and exciting, they will always be make-us-our-pitch bullies in sub-continental conditions. Flat tracks and small grounds go a long way to serve our batters, and a young virtually unrecognizable Sri Lankan seam attack tore them to shreds on a cool Pune evening. 

Of course, things were back on track in Ranchi. They had to be. A loss here would have meant a shocking rebound series loss to an unheralded team at home – a far cry from what captain MS Dhoni and director Ravi Shastri must have expected after a good performance in Australia. The script can’t possibly end so quickly. Also, in the captain’s own backyard, India dare not lose to a Lankan team in which only T. Dilshan seemed like the familiar name of a faded era. 

Sanath Jayasuriya soon tweeted 10 overs into the Indian innings how “there is no difference between the outfield and the pitch.” Thisara Perera, who took a hat-trick in the final over of the Indian innings, talked about how the pitch seemed like a strip of glass early on. The Indian batsmen made sure everything else seemed like glass too. Shikhar Dhawan exploded from the get-go, and was supported ably by a calm Rohit Sharma, before Suresh Raina and Hardik Pandya flexed their finishing muscles (for once) and ended on a strong note. Scores of 32, 31, 28, 27 were not nearly enough for the Sri Lankan middle order led by captain Chandimal – and they fell by 69 runs after Jasprit Bumrah, Ashish Nehra and Ravindra Jadeja got two wickets a piece, and R Ashwin cleared up with three economical wickets. 

Just like that, the series is now at 1-1, which is a good thing for the eager fans in Visakhapatnam. They will see a match that matters in the larger scheme. 

STRENGTHS

Openers: Many scoffed when Rohit Sharma mentioned how Shikhar Dhawan and he would like to emulate the legendary Sachin-Ganguly pair in limited overs cricket. And now, for once, both the openers are in form together; neither has to worry about their place in a side filled with stars. And they now have established roles in the shortest format. Dhawan is the aggressor, for it’s the only way he broke out of his slump, while Rohit is the calm accumulator, who will hold the innings and break free after the 10th over. They put on a quickfire 76 in little over six overs in Ranchi, shocking the Lankan bowlers and enjoying a confident stand at the crease. They are fast turning into a reliable batting pair at the top – which means Ajinkya Rahane, who can only fit into an opener’s slot in T20 internationals, will have to wait much longer. 

Spinners: Jadeja and Ashwin feel at home all over again, and have even enjoyed their time in the T20s down under. When batsmen try to attack them, they are at their wily best – and stumper Dhoni often does the rest. It’s a joy to watch them bowl in suitable conditions, and equally frustrating to watch them lose their way on other tracks. For now, they will be satisfied with their ‘preparations’ for the World Cup in similar conditions. 

Ashish Nehra: The 36-year Indian fast bowler seems to have mastered a format in which he was least likely to last. He isn’t the best fielder or athlete, and it’s inspirational that he still found a way to break into a young Indian team based on his IPL experience. Solely on his deceptive bowling, Nehra is now leading an attack that was, not too long ago, mourning the loss of form for Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma. He has sealed his place for the World Cup, and will literally have one final hurrah, almost five years after he last played for the Indian team – coincidentally in a World Cup (2011) that we won. 

Suresh Raina: He has slowly found his form in the middle after a scratchy few knocks in Australia. He has finished well over the last few games, and jumps and weaves around resourcefully to throw most bowlers off rhythm. Dhoni will be a mighty relieved man that the responsibility of finishing is now solely on Raina and Hardik Pandya

WEAKNESSES

Yuvraj Singh: He looks destined to go out meekly on the big stage – a platform that he has often used to remind the world who he is. The 2014 T20 final was a tragic affair, mostly because of how he failed to accelerate, like watching the death of a bright star. He has owned most domestic tournaments, but has looked a lost boy on the international stage. He pulled off a heist in the last T20 against Australia, which meant he could keep his place for the World Cup – not such a great thing for Indian fans, considering his lack of opportunities, confidence and form. 

MS Dhoni: Not as captain or keeper, but as a batsman. He isn’t the same, and he never will be. This T20 World Cup could be his last international tournament as captain, depending on how far the team reaches. He looks a bit tired, and doesn’t command the crease as much as he did before the new fielding restrictions rules came into place. 

Prediction

India will complete their come-from-behind 2-1 series victory against a hapless Lankan team – who have shown grit and promise without their stars (Angelo Mathews, Lasith Malinga). The upcoming Asia Cup, however, could be a different ball game with the likes of Pakistan and Bangladesh waiting. 

 

 

 

 

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