Let’s accept it. Not much of what happens over the next two weeks in Sri Lanka is going to have a long-term influence on India’s white-ball fortunes. They are playing one of the weakest teams in contemporary cricket, in conditions very much familiar to theirs, with a decently-built squad of their own despite multiple first-choice absentees.
Even while counting their gains, the visitors will have to be mindful of the kind of opposition they came up against and keep their optimism in check. It is especially pertinent to the cases of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, two bowlers that the senior team management would love to have back at their absolute best. Wickets in Colombo aren’t going to revive Kuldeep’s dwindling career for India unless he does it against stronger opposition.
The above is very much true for Krunal Pandya as well, who, after losing out on the reckoning for a while, got back in the white-ball set up earlier this year and made his ODI debut against England in Ravindra Jadeja’s absence. Krunal started off with an impressive half-century in Pune and had a strike-rate of over 128 in those three games in March. But at the same time conceded 8 runs per over and picked up just one wicket.
As far as quality goes, Sri Lanka to England is chalk to cheese in modern-day ODI cricket. Krunal was thrown right into the deep end of waters in Pune and asked to show if he really can stay afloat. Despite the series’ short nature, the selectors would have got a decent enough glimpse of what Krunal offers to the ODI side and what he doesn’t yet. They do not have that luxury now to assess whether there really is some progress on the areas they would have identified.
Still, however, on an individual level, when a Krunal Pandya delivers a spell of great discipline as he did in the first ODI against Sri Lanka, it gives him some breathing space. There can’t be any false sense of security, of course, and Krunal will know it. But just some assurance that, while Jadeja isn’t around, he is keeping himself in the mix. Doing his chances no harm. It is the best you can do for yourself at times in an Indian team of unprecedented talent depth.
Performances in Sri Lanka would help Krunal Pandya stay afloat amid stiff competition
Krunal came on to bowl after the 15th over when Sri Lanka were, despite the untimely blow of Avishka Fernando, quite happily placed at 82/1. Krunal bowled unchanged from an end for the next 12 overs and gave away just 12 runs through his spell. His control and consistency, backed up by useful changes of pace and trajectory, allowed him to maintain a tight leash on run-scoring.
It was a good spell of defensive bowling, for which Krunal was rewarded with the wicket of Dhanjaya de Silva, who was forced into lofting one straight to wide mid-off after a painstaking 14 off 27 balls. De Silva was the key to Sri Lanka’s resurgence after they lost their way following Kuldeep’s twin strikes in the 16th over and he would have identified Krunal as a bowler against whom he could perhaps take some luxuries against. But the all-rounder turned the tables on Sri Lanka’s potential saviour and gave him no openings to score freely, before he was ultimately forced into a false stroke.
When Jadeja comes back, such is the hierarchy that Krunal Pandya is bound to warm the benches. But performances here in Sri Lanka will make sure he is at least in the fray and not allowing other cricketers of ilk, including Washington Sundar, to sneak through the window, as Krunal himself did following Hardik’s back injury.
India had no option but to rejig their ODI balance after Hardik’s injury. Despite extensive rehabilitation measures, they could no longer depend on him to bowl 10 overs every game. But with his powerhitting skills making him indispensable, the door had to be opened for another utility player at No.7. Someone who could share Hardik’s burden with both the ball and the bat and allow India to prolong the stay of their premier white-ball all-rounder.
Given his experience and improved ability to use the long handle, the first-choice pick to be that player was always Jadeja. But with Jadeja getting injured in Australia and missing out versus England, the selectors had no option but to spread the net wider for the role and that gave Krunal a comeback opportunity.
And so, Krunal is a backup to an all-rounder, whose stocks rose in the ODI team because of someone else’s injury. But even that is perhaps a blessing at a time when India has so many options to choose from. Performances in Sri Lanka would at least help Krunal keep those other options at bay, if not elevate his own status in the pecking order. That’s all you can do at times in life and cricket, control the controllables and earn yourself some breathing space.