IND v SL T20Is: Hardik Pandya, Rahul Dravid face tough calls in opener against Sri Lanka

Mumbai, Jan 2 (IANS) The New Year heralds a hectic season in an ODI World Cup year for the Indian men’s cricket team, which embarks on a whirlwind of matches in the first quarter of the year, oscillating between white-ball and red-ball cricket.

First off for the Men in Blue will be a three-match T20I series against neighbours Sri Lanka followed by three 50-over encounters with the same opponents.

With New Zealand set to reach the country in the middle of the month — for three T20Is and as many ODIs — and Australia following suit in February, India will end up playing 6 T20Is, 9 ODIs and four Test matches (all against Australia as part of Border-Gavaskar Trophy) by March end. And a few days after that, the players will get in with their respective franchises for the Indian Premier League, which will end in May.

India will kick-start the hectic first quarter of the year with a Hardik Pandya-led team taking on Sri Lanka in a three-match T20I series, starting with the first of which will be played at the Wankhede Stadium here on Tuesday. The two teams will meet in Pune (January 5) and Rajkot (January 7) in the remaining two matches of the T20I series.

It will be a crucial match for both India and skipper Hardik Pandya, who will be standing in for Rohit Sharma for the second time this season and will have Suryakumar Yadav as his deputy.

The national selectors have rested senior players like Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and K.L. Rahul and the team management will be testing players for key slots like opener — someone to partner Rohit Sharma as K.L Rahul’s performance in recent times has come under the scanner — a second wicketkeeper and also pace bowlers as seniors like Jasprit Bumrah is still not available as he is recuperating from an injury while Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s performance has been up and down in recent times. Mohammad Siraj, who played the T20I series against New Zealand, has not been included and India would be hoping to blood Shivam Mavi and Mukesh Kumar in one of these matches.

It will be a big test for Hardik Pandya after he caught the eye by leading Gujarat Titans to the IPL 2022 title in a maiden attempt for both the team and the skipper.

Pandya is expected to be named permanent captain of the T20I team and his stock is quite up after leading India to a series win in New Zealand in November 2022. Though it was a short series with one match abandoned due to bad weather and one ending in a tie.

With Rohit set to return as captain for the ODI series, an impressive clean sweep will further bolster his chances of taking up T20I captaincy permanently as the BCCI tries to inject new energy into the squad following the disappointing defeat against England in the T20 World Cup and lessen the burden on Rohit Sharma.

Thus the team management will have to make some tough decisions for the first match itself. The first call that Pandya and chief coach Rahul Dravid will have to take about will be the two openers. Ishan Kishan, who struck a double hundred in the third ODI against Bangladesh, will be a toss-up between Shubman Gill and Ruturaj Gaikwad for the second spot.

The team management will also have to take a call on the bowling unit — especially the pace combination, picking up between Arshdeep Singh, who is likely to start after his impressive outing against Bangladesh, Harshal Patel, Umran Malik, Shivam Mavi and Mukesh Kumar. They will also have to pick between Washington Sundar, Yuzvendra Chahal, and Axar Patel for the spinners’ slots. With Rishabh Pant rested, it will be either Ishan Kishan or Sanju Samson who will keep the wickets.

India’s opponents Sri Lanka too have to take some difficult calls as they have recalled senior batters like Avishka Fernando and Sadeera Samarawickrama.

Fernando is back in the national side after an injury kept him out of action for months. His last appearance was in February 2022 against Australia. Samarawickrama returns to the 20-member squad after last playing in July 2021 against India.

Both the players are in form and excelled in the Lanka Premier League. Fernando was the top scorer in the tournament, while Samarawickrama was the second-highest run-getter.

Sri Lanka will be looking up to them besides skipper Dasun Shanaka, Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya de Silva, Pathum Nissanka and Bhanuka Rajapaksa, who will leave after the T20Is, to put up a big score in the opener while their bowling efforts will be led by spinner Wanindu Hasaranga, who has been named vice-captain for the T20I series, Maheesh Theekshana and Charith Asalanka.

The pace bowling resources at Shanaka’s disposal are Lahiri Kumara, Nuwan Thushara, and Dilshan Madushanka besides himself to choose from for the three T20Is.

The home team will be hoping to exact revenge for their defeat to Sri Lanka in the Asia CupSuper Four last year and give the year a rousing start.

Squads

India (from): Hardik Pandya (Captain), Ishan Kishan (wk), Ruturaj Gaikwad, Shubman Gill, Suryakumar Yadav (v-c), Deepak Hooda, Rahul Tripathi, Sanju Samson, Washington Sundar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Axar Patel, Arshdeep Singh, Harshal Patel, Umran Malik, Shivam Mavi and Mukesh Kumar.

Sri Lanka (from): Dasun Shanaka (captain), Pathum Nissanka, Avishka Fernando, Sadeera Samarawickrama (wk), Kusal Mendis, Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Charith Asalanka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Wanindu Hasaranga (v-c), Ashen Bandara, Maheesh Theekshana, Chamika Karunaratne, Dilshan Madushanka, Kasun Rajitha, Dunith Wellalage, Pramod Madushan, Lahiru Kumara and Nuwan Thushara.

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