Not for the first time, a Sri Lankan cricket team will travel to Indian shores as the BCCI’s idea of “match practice” before the start of a big tournament. With the T20 World Cup just around the corner, these two 2014 finalists will face off in a rather inconsequential series in terms of its scheduling, but an important one for fringe players looking to make the final cut.
It also involves two teams on the opposite sides of the form spectrum. India is fresh from a 3-0 whitewash in Australia, and is the new No. 1 side in this format. Till that series, India was ranked 8, just above the non-Test playing nations – such is the huddle between the top teams. If they lose this one, they could fall back down to…it doesn’t matter anymore.
Not too long ago, Sri Lanka was that No. 1 team – until they were mauled by the Kiwis last month, resulting in a free fall down the rankings. They will, however, enter the World Cup in March as defending champions and three-time finalists, easily the most decorated international T20 team so far.
Also, you’d be forgiven for rolling your eyes after discovering the names of these teams. They’ve played each other more than Federer has played Nadal, Nadal has played Djokovic, Djokovic has played Federer and Agassi has played every other rival ever born. They’re everyone’s favorite go-to teams. If you have nothing to do and get sick of watching non-Asian teams play competitive cricket, or if there’s generally nothing to do in an off-season scenario, more often that not Sri Lanka will visit India – like neighbors dropping by for a quick beer before an event.
None of them are notable really, considering the kind of ODI series they had. New inclusions Rishi Dhawan and Gurkeerat Singh Mann have been axed – and it looks like they will miss the World Cup bus too. It may sound unfair on them, considering they were asked to prove their trade skills on Aussie batting-friendly pitches – but they didn’t pass with the bat either. It’s not like the Indian pitches will be too different either. Umesh Yadav, who swayed between wildly inaccurate, annoying and brilliant, seems to have pushed it a bit far with his mood swings. MS Dhoni and Co. seem to have told him to go back to the drawing board to replenish the form he had displayed in the ODI World Cup last year.
Virat Kohli has been “rested” too. He deserves it, given that he has been India’s best player in T20 internationals since 2014. He scored 199 runs against the Aussies in the three matches, and walked away with yet another Man Of the Series award.
In Kohli’s place, ODI hero Manish Pandey – who should’ve ideally also been part of the T20 series in Australia after his sterling century in the final ODI – will join the squad to play Lanka. He will most likely play at Kohli’s position at number three too. Pawan Negi, who made his name as a hard-hitting spinning all-rounder for the Chennai Super Kings under captain MS Dhoni (no surprise), will also be part of the squad – his first call-up to the national side after taking everyone by surprise with his huge shots in last year’s Indian Premier League. Of course, the Super Kings are no more, but here’s Negi’s chance to prove his mettle on the big stage and demand a higher asking price this time around.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who had picked up an injury during the 5-match ODI series down under, will also play in this series – probably his final chance to prove that he isn’t another Irfan Pathan (read: promising swing bowler who starts with a bang, shows batting prowess before fading away into non-swing oblivion)
All these players have three matches to prove themselves before the upcoming T20 Asia Cup – the first of its kind – which will be the final curtain call for India in this T20-heavy season before the World Cup, which will most likely be MS Dhoni’s last T20 tournament in charge as international captain. In case you’re wondering, all these quick T20 tournaments have been inserted hastily before the World Cup because India had played only two T20 games in all of 2015. Australia had played one – which showed, because they fell from 2nd to 8th under captain Aaron Finch during the whitewash.
Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Manish Pandey, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, MS Dhoni, R. Ashwin, Ashish Nehra, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Harbhajan Singh, Pawan Negi
SHOULD HAVE BEEN GIVEN A CHANCE
Mumbai’s Shreyas Iyer and Karnataka’s Robin Uthappa should have been given a chance – both on opposing ends of their career graphs, but equally talented and destructive in this format. Amit Mishra deserves another chance, considering he has always been one of the best spinners every year in the T20 league. Varun Aaron must come in as an all-out pacer to support Bumrah in the long run.
The three matches will be played at Pune, Ranchi and Visakhapatnam. Let the yet-another-India-Sri-Lanka-series games begin.