Barabati Stadium, Cuttack
December 20, Wednesday; 19:00 IST
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The main picture
During the ODI series, we saw a side to the current Sri Lanka team, that we have seen with overwhelming regularity this year. Now, what’s that characteristic? Well, not being able to play well for a majority of an ODI ‘innings’; or, in other words, not making the most of being in a good position.
Against resourceful and confident teams like India, who have not only been winning every series they have played this year but also won from all kinds of positions, you don’t have to give them opportunities. They are capable of creating openings of their own and putting themselves on the road to victory.
But the current Sri Lankan team have time and again let this Indian team back into matches and basically made life easier for their neighbours. And an inability to play well even for 50 overs pointed to not only an imbalance in the Thisara Perera-led ODI team but also that their team revolves around a couple players in every match. So, once those two or three players (Suranga Lakmal, Angelo Mathews and probably Upul Tharanga) have been taken down, the opposition pretty much have their route clear.
While two or three players cannot always win you ODIs, they are more often than not capable of winning you Twenty20 Internationals. In essence, therefore, the Lankan Lions are reasonably well-placed to win the series which starts tomorrow in Cuttack. Lakmal has been rested from the three-T20I series, while Lasith Malinga has been dropped. Lahiru Thirimanne hasn’t found a place either. Though these are three vital players to Sri Lanka, taking into account Thirimanne and Malinga haven’t been on their game recently, the nature of the T20 format is such that Asela Gunaratne, Akila Dananjaya and captain Perera are capable of having a massive impact.
The Indian selectors have named a much-changed Indian T20 squad which is without Shikhar Dhawan, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Siddarth Kaul. Their places have gone to Lokesh Rahul, Deepak Hooda, Jaydev Unadkat, and Basil Thampi. So, not only will a majority of the players be playing for spots but they will also be short of international experience. Again, Rohit Sharma will debut as India’s T20 captain, becoming the sixth different to lead the national side in this format.
The Barabati Stadium is set to host its second T20 International, with the first being played between India and South Africa. That was affected by crowd trouble, with spectators hurling water bottles onto the field of play and forcing a suspension in play. Eventually, though, the match was completed and the Proteas coasted home to a six-wicket win. The pitch here has almost always been good for batting and dew has also tended to be a factor over the years. The weather forecast says that Wednesday will be clear, with the temperature at night dropping to 14 degrees Celsius.
IND: WLWLW (from left to right, last five T20Is)
1st T20: India vs Sri Lanka playing XI
Lokesh Rahul is likely to return in place of Shikhar Dhawan, while Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s spot might go to Mohammed Siraj, who made his international debut against New Zealand. Others pretty much pick themselves, having only played the three ODIs.
Possible India playing 11 for the first T20: 1 Rohit Sharma (c), 2 Lokesh Rahul, 3 Shreyas Iyer, 4 Dinesh Karthik, 5 Manish Pandey, 6 MS Dhoni (wk), 7 Hardik Pandya, 8 Kuldeep Yadav, 9 Jasprit Bumrah, 10 Yuzvendra Chahal, and 11 Mohammed Siraj
Sri Lanka must replace the spearhead of their bowling attack, Suranga Lakmal, and the potential replacement is Vishwa Fernando. The other big decision is Niroshan Dickwella’s position in the batting line-up. This attacking wicketkeeper-batsman struggled during the ODI series batting at No. 5 and you couldn’t help but feel that he was being wasted. Dasun Shanaka might well replace Danushka Gunathilaka or Sadeera Samarawickrama in the XI.
Possible Sri Lanka playing XI for the 1st T20: 1 Thisara Perera (c), 2 Upul Tharanga, 3 Sadeera Samarawickrama, 4 Angelo Mathews, 5 Niroshan Dickwella (wk), 6 Asela Gunaratne, 7 Dasun Shanaka, 8 Akila Dananjaya, 9 Nuwan Pradeep, 10 Vishwa Fernando, and 11 Sachith Pathirana
Sri Lanka have the personnel who can give them an edge, help them compete better and potentially win this series. But they still ought to play well for longer periods of a 40-over match to beat an Indian side who have a bunch of talented youngsters and players with a rich IPL experience.