It was ridiculously easy the way India wrapped up the series against Sri Lanka. We knew it before the series; India were the crystal-clear favourites to clinch the series. The scoreline was not 3-0, thanks to rain in the first match at Guhawati. So the caravan travelled to Indore for the second T20I. Batting first, the visitors could manage only 142 runs, courtesy some ordinary batting and top-class bowling from the hosts. India chased the modest target and ensured they don’t lose the series.
In the next game, the Men in Blue were asked to bat first, something India have had issues doing in the past. Good start from the openers, a middle-order collapse and fire-works from Manish Pandey and Shardul Thakur saw India scoring 201 runs. With the ball, the Indian pacers sealed the game in the powerplay itself by knocking four batsmen down. India won the match by 78 runs and the skipper Virat Kohli collected another trophy.
In short, India dominated the way they were expected to. Before the start of series, all the eyes were on Jasprit Bumrah who was making a comeback after an injury. He wasn’t at his best at Indore, pretty normal in the first match after an injury. Albeit, it was just a matter of time for him to get his rhythm back, which he did in the last T20I.
The series was not an exhibition of a very interesting contest. However, things have got a tad clearer for Indian management. On the other hand, Sri Lanka found positives in the form of two wrist spinners – Lakshan Sandakan and Wanindu Hasaranga. Sandakan is a Chinaman spinner who sent Indian openers back to the hut along with Shreyas Iyer in the third match. Hasaranga is an off-spinner who picked up three wickets with pretty imposing figures in the series. But what did India gain from the series? Let’s find out.
Major Takeaways for India:
KL Rahul outshines Shikhar Dhawan
KL Rahul who is in red-hot form should be India’s first-choice opener in the shortest format. The home series between India and the West Indies last year was enough for this debate. And this series gave an even clearer picture. Dhawan was scratchy in the second match, he couldn’t connect the ball well. The southpaw scored a half-century in the third game at Pune. However, that should not be enough to bench Rahul.
The opening batsman from Karnataka outperformed Dhawan in this series and has better numbers in every aspect – runs, average, strike rate and boundaries. Dhawan played 35.4 % dot balls in this series, while the percentage falls to just 20.6 % for Rahul. Anyway, even in general Rahul is a better T20 batsman than the 34-year-old.
The right-handed batsman is capable of scoring runs at a quicker rate than Dhawan in every phase of the innings – powerplay, middle-overs and in the slog overs as well. However, Rahul often slows down in the middle-overs.
Kohli said before that it would be very difficult to choose one between Dhawan and Rahul once Rohit returns. Howbeit, it should not be difficult to select Rahul over Dhawan now, at least in this format. Keeping the T20 World Cup in sight, India should back the right players now. And the team management should be able to see that Rahul has better numbers and is more skilled than Dhawan as far as this format is concerned.
The pace of Navdeep Saini talks:
How beautifully things have turned around for Navdeep Saini since 2019! Saini impressed in his debut IPL season, donned the Blue Jersey, and has been impressive at the international level as well. Now, he is one of the top contenders to be a part of India’s squad for the T20 World Cup. Before this series, Saini made his ODI debut against the West Indies and picked up two big wickets.
He conceded ten runs in the first over, he bowled in this series. However, he made a comeback in his second over as he knocked over Danushka Gunathilaka with 147.5 kph Yorker. The 27-year-old banged in three consecutive short balls and the next peach delivery in the blockhole sent Gunathilaka back to the pavilion. Pace had a part to play in his second scalp too, as he got the better of Bhanuka Rajapaksa with a 141 kph bumper. He finished the match with a couple of wickets while conceding just 18 runs in four overs. Not only that, Saini bagged the second ‘Man of the Match’ award of his T20I career as well.
Kohli also showered praise on the young man in the post-match presentation of the second T20I.
“Navdeep has come into the ODI circuit as well, he is gaining more confidence in T20 cricket. You can really see him letting himself go. When he does that, he can clock those speeds which he did. It’s great to see him getting people out with yorkers and bouncers and with pace. It’s a really good sign for the team,” the Indian skipper said.
In the third match, he recreated the same moment as he puzzled Kusal Perera with his toe-crushing yorker. In the 16th over, the right-arm quick picked up the wicket of Dhananjay de Silva, the man in form & Lasith Malinga to seal the game for India. Saini was presented with ‘Man of the Series’ award for his brilliant performance in both the matches.
The Haryana-born is an exciting player because of his sheer pace. The best out of Navdeep can be brought in the Test cricket. However, he still can be a very good bowler in the limited-overs cricket. He likes to hit the deck hard and is capable of bowling short balls, yorkers, hard-length deliveries; and has been adding variations in his armoury. Saini has got the ingredients. If he keeps improving, strengthen his control and keeps bowling with accuracy; India have found a perfect partner for Bumrah.
What will form the spin attack for India?
India have many options in the spin department – Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Washington Sundar, Ravindra Jadeja, Krunal Pandya, Rahul Chahar, Mayank Markande, Shreyas Gopal and even Krishnappa Gowtham. Kuldeep, Sundar and Chahal featured in India’s XI in this series. The Chinaman spinner had a good outing in the only match he played and Sundar performed decently. Chahal was expensive yesterday, as he conceded 33 runs in three overs and went wicketless. However, he is still India’s premier leg-spinner; one bad game does not matter.
The 25-year-old Kuldeep is getting his rhythm and confidence back since the series against the West Indies. Since his first match against the Men in Maroon – the last T20I at Mumbai, Kuldeep has been India’s most successful bowler along with Shami, Saini and Thakur. He also picked up a hat-trick in the second ODI against the Pollard-led team.
India haven’t been selecting Chahal and Kuldeep together of late. However, the duo should be certainly back when Hardik Pandya returns to the side. Since the teams are allowed to have 15 players in their World Cup squad, India can afford to have maximum three spinners in their squad. The two wrist spinners – Kuldeep and Chahal should be locked as of now, and the fight is for the third spot which will be probably occupied by a finger spinner. India’s next T20 assignment is against the Blackcaps in New Zealand. Thus, the team management needs to decide those three spinners by then.
Shardul Thakur is making some noise:
India have problem of plenty in the spin department, as mentioned above. However, their pace bowling resources are still limited. Jasprit Bumrah is the only rock-solid pacer, especially when death bowling comes into the picture. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has not been the same since the injury in 2018 and has gone for runs at times in the death. He has variations which is good but bowls the slower ball too often, despite having the yorker in his array. He should do better when he regains his fitness.
Navdeep Saini and Deepak Chahar have been impressive at the international level. Amidst all of this, Shardul Thakur has put up his hand up. The right-arm pacer has found swing with the new ball and used his variations well. The 28-year-old also looted a lot limelight because of his batting. The right-handed batsman played a wonderful cameo of 22 runs off just eight balls against Sri Lanka at Pune, and finished well against the West Indies in the third ODI.
However, his batting should be considered only when he steps up with the ball consistently. In four matches, he played this home season, the Mumbaikar picked up seven wickets. It will be too early to say that Thakur should be in India’s squad for the World Cup but he has been impressive. In case of any injury, India might look Thakur as a back-up for Deepak Chahar.