When Team India take on hosts Sri Lanka in a couple of days, it will be the first time India will have two teams playing in two different parts of the world at the same time. With the ‘main’ team in England for the upcoming series, India have been given a unique opportunity to test their so-called ‘bench strength’ to the core in the Sri Lanka series.
Recent tours to Sri Lanka have featured a somewhat less superior squad, but this will be the first time the Men in Blue fielded a squad mostly filled with reserve players. This poses a very tricky scenario for both teams, as India will be looking at finalising their Men’s T20 World Cup squad and this series will give them one last chance to see which other players could make the squad apart from the select few, while Sri Lanka will be vary that even though this might not be India’s first team, by no means will it be a less-superior side, and will be cautious of getting whitewashed at home to a second-string team of the visitors.
Heading into the series opener on July 18, let’s take note of a few important things to look forward to in the upcoming series.
A way back?
Along with the series being a chance for the youngsters to make a case for themselves, the series will also probably be the final road to the World Cup team for a few of the senior players.
Players like Shikhar Dhawan, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar will be looking to make full use of this series to put their names back in the ring for the upcoming T20 World Cup.
While KL Rahul has confirmed his place as a white ball certainty, he has also taken over Dhawan’s opening role alongside Rohit Sharma and hasn’t really given the selectors a chance to replace him. Although it will most likely be Rahul and Sharma at the World Cup, Dhawan can make a case for himself with a strong series in Sri Lanka. Given the additional responsibility of captaining the side, Dhawan has his work cut out.
Along with Dhawan, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal are two others who have fallen out of the selector’s good books in the past few years. Chahal and Kuldeep were India’s go-to spin combo post the 2017 Champions Trophy loss, and with a seam bowling all-rounder in Hardik Pandya, both the spinners fit perfectly into the team’s plans. But with Pandya getting injured and not bowling, India have had to reshuffle their team dynamic which has led to both the spinners miss out or play in place of one another. A dip in form for both hasn’t helped either, and with the impressive Washington Sundar and Rahul Chahar making strong cases for themselves, this might be the last chance the Kul-Cha duo get to spin their way back into the Indian team.
Another senior player who has been missing from action is Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, although unlike those mentioned above, Kumar didn’t really see a dip in form to have himself miss out on selection. Persistent injuries have plagued Kumar, and with a new-look fast bowling attack, he is slowly starting to get overlooked. One of the finest white ball bowlers on his day, Kumar will look to regain his place in the playing XI with a strong series in Sri Lanka. The series also gives him a chance to show his maturity and development as leader of the attack with a relatively inexperienced line up in Sri Lanka.
This could also be the last lifeline for players like Manish Pandey and Krunal Pandya, who have been in and out of the squad of late.
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We need to talk about Sri Lanka
For the first half of the 2010s, the Sri Lankan team were one of the strongest white ball teams in the world. Having been runners up in the 2007 and 2011 ODI World Cups, and having won the 2014 World T20, the Lankan lions were definitely one of the most dominant teams in world cricket – a force to be reckoned with both at home and away.
Fast forward seven years, and the retirement of the core of the team has made the Sri Lankan team’s fall from the top a tough one to look at. With greats like Kumar Sangakara, Mahela Jayawardene and Angelo Matthews amongst others, the transition to building a team around the upcoming talents has been tough. Heading into a home series after getting whitewashed in England, the likes of Avishka Fernando, captain Dasun Shanaka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Isru Udana and Kusal Perera would want to guide the youngsters to a home victory. A loss at home to a non-first team Indian squad is the last thing the Lankan lions need right now.
Consistency has been an issue for the Lankans, who have seen ten different captains across the three formats in the last five years. The likes of Wanindu Hasaranga, Dushmantha Chameera, and Minod Bhanuka have shown that there is no dearth of talent in Sri Lanka; they just have to find a way to nurture these talents with proper guidance from the senior players in order to build a strong team.
Unrest amongst the senior players with the board hasn’t helped the situation either, with Dinesh Chandimal being the most recent one to criticise the board publicly over the handling of the senior Sri Lankan players.
After a second-string English team beat Pakistan’s first team recently, hosts Sri Lanka will be wary of the backlash if they get cleaned up by India.
The Wall for the future?
Rahul Dravid has been instrumental in the development of India’s bench strength that is ready to challenge the other international teams at any point of time. Dravid, who will be accompanying the senior team as Head Coach for the first time, will be looking to make his presence felt. Dravid, who has already had previous coaching stints with the U19s and the India A team, has also been the mentor for Rajasthan Royals and Delhi Daredevils in the IPL.
Not only has Dravid brought home the results with an U19 World Cup winning squad and multiple successes with the A team, he has also stated numerous times that for him at the U19 and A team level it isn’t about the results but the development of players.
Dravid has stuck to his mantra, and the results of his development of players have shown recently with series victories in Australia with a non-first team eleven. With six matches scheduled for the tour, Dravid has stated it will be unlikely he gets to give all the players match time, hence it will be interesting to see the combinations he puts forward over the course of the T20 and ODI series.
With current head coach Ravi Shashtri’s current contract expiring this year, a strong performance from the Indian legend in Sri Lanka can pave the way for a full-time role with the senior team.