India’s tour to Australia ended on 31st Jan and there was some unprecedented leisure time for the team before the players re-engage in non-stop cricket for the rest of the year. But as always, the leisure time for Indian players is to play against their perpetual opponents and friendly neighbours, Sri Lanka.
The Lankan selectors have ensured that the Indian players enjoy their leisure time, as their most experienced players, Lasith Malinga, Angelo Mathews, Rangana Herath and Nuwan Kulasekara, will miss the tour due to injuries. In Malinga’s absence, Dinesh Chandimal will lead the side.
One surprise inclusion for them was the inclusion of Dilhara Fernando, famous for his deceptive slower deliveries. The selection of 36-year old fast bowler just before the World T20 is befuddling, to say the least, despite his decent performance in the domestic T20 competition where he has taken 11 wickets in the 4 games. Having reposed their faith in youngsters, for the tour his inclusion does not augur well for the rebuilding taking place after the retirement of Sangakkara and Jayawardene.
At first glance, the squad looks ordinary. There aren’t any big names, and looking at their previous tours, Danushka Gunathilaka impressed as opener in one innings in NZ, but has otherwise been ordinary. Dinesh Chandimal, Milinda Siriwardana and Chamara Kapugadera should hold the middle order positions in this batting line up. In the bowling department, all we know is about the spinners is that Seekuge Prasanna and Sachitra Senanayke are expected to play an important role in the Indian conditions.
The worrisome factor for Sri Lankan team management is that 39-year old Dilshan, who is anyway injured for the first T20I, is the only player to be in some form and play consistently for them in the past one year. Sri Lankan cricketing stocks have plunged greatly post the retirement of Jayawardene and Sangakkara.
India, on the other hand, is sitting comfortably on top and should be satisfied with a 3-0 win against the Aussies. They have rested their star batsman, Virat Kohli, for the series. Manish Pandey, who is drafted in the side, should be out there to prove a point after he was left out of the World T20 squad despite his match winning innings in the final ODI. Shikhar Dhawan’s place as an opener is all but confirmed after a few brisk innings in the T20 series against Australia.
Having said all that, all does not seem well for India before the world T20. India needs serious introspection about the middle and lower middle order. If Yuvraj Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni are to hold the role of finishers, they need to get the time in the middle. That is why India should not be inflexible with their batting order, and should give these two batsmen sufficient time in the middle. Yuvraj clearly looked rusty with the bat and almost cost India the game. MS Dhoni looked to be getting his big hits right, but there wasn’t enough proof to affirm that. India cannot afford to go into the World T20 with a brittle lower middle order, and they have enough games to address this issue.
The top three in the Indian batting line up have played 278 out of the total 360 balls bowled to the team in the Ind-Aus T20 series. This is a clear indication that the other batsmen have not had the required time in the middle.
Now to India’s perennial problem: the bowling. Umesh Yadav has been dropped for the tour after a poor performance down under, only to be replaced by another bowler who had a poor ODI series down under, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar. Jasprit Bumrah, the find of the Australian tour, will be looking to make full use of home conditions after bowling superbly in tough Australian conditions.
The spin personnel remain the same but this time around Bhajji will be hoping to get a game in. He will have competition with Pawan Negi, spinning all-rounder, included in the squad on the back of his impressive performances in the Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy. He managed 173 runs in the nine matches to go with six wickets.
India would probably like to try a different combination than what they tried in Australia. The first one that comes to mind is the team of World Cup 2011 where Dhoni extracted overs from Yuvi to cover for the lack of a proper fifth bowler. If that works for the captain, they could afford to play an extra batsman.
There is not much to gain for the finalists of 2014 World T20 apart from the practice for the big tournament next month, and the opportunity to try out a few things, as a short tournament like the World T20 does not give the chance for that.
India Squad : MS Dhoni (captain & wk), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Manish Pandey, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Ashish Nehra, Harbhajan Singh, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Pawan Negi, Virat Kohli (rested)
Sri Lanka Squad : Dinesh Chandimal (captain & wk), Tillakaratne Dilshan, Seekuge Prasanna, Milinda Siriwardana, Danushka Gunathilaka, Thisara Perera, Dasun Shanaka, Asela Gunaratne, Chamara Kapugedera, Dushmantha Chameera, Dilhara Fernando, Kasun Rajitha, Binura Fernando, Sachithra Senanayake, Jeffrey Vandersay, Lasith Malinga (injured), Angelo Mathews (injured), Rangana Herath (injured), Nuwan Kulasekara (injured)