Under-strength SL have mountain to climb

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Agarkar: Series a good test for India’s spinners ahead of World T20

Match facts

February 9, 2016
Start time 1930 local (1400 GMT)

Big Picture

When these T20 teams met most recently, at the 2014 World T20 final, India may have been better-drilled, but Sri Lanka had the cleverer strategy. Sri Lanka were T20’s iconoclasts at the time, topping the rankings with wit and versatility, while other teams doubled down on power. Things have changed south of the Palk Strait since then. There’s been an exodus of cricketing intelligence. The team has not coped, so far.

India have never lacked for smarts themselves, with one of limited-overs cricket’s savviest men at the helm, but as ever, they also have a strapping top order. With their sweep of Australia, India have already sounded a warning in the approach to next month’s World T20. If they are that good abroad, you wonder how good will they will be at home? Sri Lanka has only just managed to get a half-decent domestic T20 tournament off the ground. India has a two-month T20 frenzy each year.

It would seem this Sri Lanka team will have to play unexpectedly well to rattle their hosts. India are light a Virat Kohli, but Sri Lanka are without Lasith Malinga’s street-smarts, Angelo Mathews’ even-tempered finishes, Nuwan Kulasekara’s control and now one of the rookie seamers they wanted to assess Binura Fernando is injured too. It is a fresh team, led by an unproved captain as well. The areas in which India outgun Sri Lanka at the moment would appear to be exactly all of them.

Form guide

(last five completed matches, most recent first)

India: WWWLL
Sri Lanka: LLLWL

Dilhara Fernando made a shock return to the Sri Lanka squad and may well be among the first XI © AFP

In the spotlight

After that World T20 final Yuvraj Singh was derided by some for his stalling innings that played a role in India’s loss. That criticism was perhaps a little sharp – even MS Dhoni was restrained by the quality of Sri Lanka’s death bowling. But Yuvraj is back now, and has an eye on the finisher’s role. He faced only 12 balls in Australia, but had been in good form for his state side Punjab, before that series.

Sri Lanka’s selectors have punctuated their search for talented youth by picking an occasional throwback, but the selection of Dilhara Fernando is perhaps the biggest surprise yet. Until this selection, Fernando had been viewed as a lost talent; penetrative in patches, but ultimately too flawed for the international game. The selectors have seen something in his recent performances to warrant this renewed faith in the man, and they also know that they must find experience where they can. With any luck, Fernando will rekindle memories of that shrewd split-finger slower ball, and not for that recalcitrant front foot.

Teams news

India have a choice to make between Hardik Pandya and Pawan Negi, in that allrounder role. Pandya is the closest thing to an incumbent, having played through the Australia series. Ajinkya Rahane is likeliest to take up Kohli’s No. 3 spot.

India (probable): 1 Rohit Sharma, 2 Shikhar Dhawan, 3 Ajinkya Rahane, 4 Suresh Raina, 5 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 6 Yuvraj Singh, 7 Hardik Pandya, 8 Ravindra Jadeja, 9 R Ashwin, 10 Jasprit Bumrah, 11 Ashish Nehra

Tillakaratne Dilshan is unavailable through injury, meaning Niroshan Dickwella may make a T20 debut. There is also a chance Dickwella will take the gloves, freeing Chandimal up. There is a chance allrounder Asela Gunaratne will debut, but Sri Lanka are likely to stick with a better known lower-middle order for now. Binura Fernando picked up a hamstring injury on the eve of the match, but has been replaced by the better experienced Shaminda Eranga.

Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Niroshan Dickwella, 2 Danushka Gunathilaka, 3 Dasun Shanaka, 4 Dinesh Chandimal (capt & wk), 5 Milinda Siriwardana, 6 Chamara Kapugedera 7 Thisara Perera, 8 Seekkuge Prasanna, 9 Sachithra Senanayake, 10 Dilhara Fernando, 11 Shaminga Eranga

Pitch and conditions

Pune has generally been a high-scoring domestic venue. It has hosted only two previous international matches – one of them a T20 in which 157 was comfortably chased down. The weather is expected to be good for this encounter.

Stats and trivia

  • Sri Lanka have lost five of the six most recent T20s they have played.
  • Yuvraj Singh needs 17 more runs to complete 1000 in T20 internationals. He would be the fourth India batsman to the milestone.
  • The teams have won one match apiece in the T20s they have played in India.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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