Post Sri Lanka’s thumping of India in the final T20, the two teams shared the two series. After going down in the first T20, the hosts came from behind to take the T20 series 2-1. The visitors had taken the ODI series by the same margin.
Given the current Covid scenario around the world, the Sri Lanka tour was a pretty remarkable one as it was the first time India had two teams playing in two different parts of the world around the same time. With India’s main team or stronger team in England gearing up for the upcoming four-match Test series, the BCCI had the perfect opportunity to test the bench strength and give a few players a comeback chance.
With this being the final T20 series before the T20 World Cup, later this year in the Gulf, the India-Sri Lanka series was a perfect chance for some players who had fallen out of the reckoning to impress the selectors for the future for the young rookies.
Covid complications inside the bubble meant India had the opportunity to test all of their players, including giving debut chances to a few who weren’t even in the squad. Although the T20 series didn’t go as planned, with India losing their first T20 series since 2019, it was a good learning curve for the youngsters.
Let’s take a look at a few key takeaways from the entire tour.
Shikhar Dhawan will leave Sri Lanka a disappointed man, selected as captain for the tour and the squad’s most senior and experienced member. This tour was Dhawan’s best chance to make a case for himself at the World T20, with KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma more or less having cemented their place as the first choice openers, the Lankan tour, especially the T20 series, gave Dhawan one last chance to bid for the opening spot. Dhawan’s performance in the final two T20s is something that the Delhi southpaw himself would not have expected. Playing against an inexperienced Sri Lankan attack, not only should Dhawan have dominated the bowling but also led from the front with the bat as he did in the ODI series. But two poor dismissals cost him dearly, with India losing the T20 series after being 1-0 up.
Dhawan started slowly in the second T20, and with wickets tumbling around him, he would have liked to have anchored the innings but fell at a crucial time when India were looking to press the pedal. Dhawan’s dismissal resulted in none of the new batsmen settling down and getting going, and India managed a below-par score that the hosts quickly chased down. The series decider, where India elected to bat, with their second team also depleted of resources due to Covid, Dhawan carelessly poked at length ball with no intention of attacking that saw him head back to the pavilion for a duck. An already inexperienced batting lineup lost their strongest batter and leader, and the Indians never recovered from that. As good as his ODI series was, that handed him his first series win as a captain, Dhawan would be highly disappointed with his performance in the T20 series. He has been a pure white ballplayer for the last few years, and the fact that he might not start the T20 World Cup will be something that he wouldn’t have wanted.
Apart from Dhawan, who was trying to make a case for himself for a place in the T20 World Cup squad, the series also gave chances to some of the other fringe players, who generally would not have gotten a chance on the tour, had Covid not been around. Manish Pandey would be one who will be majorly disappointed with himself. Pandey was provided with three opportunities in all of the ODIs to showcase his skill and talent. He did not get a decent score, with a top score of only 37. Given how long he has been around, Pandey would have backed him to use this tour to remind him of his capabilities. Sadly with multiple failures and the emergence of some promising players, the future looks bleak for him.
The tour also gave a chance to Sanju Samson. Samson promised in his fleeting circumstances, but like Pandey, he failed to capitalize when he was given a chance. His aggregate runs of 34 in three innings will be something the young Keralite will not be proud of. Given the abundance of talent he has and the ample opportunities he got in the T20 series, with multiple chances to build his innings, Samson couldn’t grab the opportunities with both hands and will hope he can don the blue jersey again soon.
Although he has his place in the team more or less cemented, Hardik Pandya is another one who will rue the missed chances in the Sri Lanka tour. Given a chance to prove his all-around capabilities before the T20 World Cup against a relatively weaker opponent, Pandya himself would have expected himself to do better. 19 runs and two wickets in the ODI series and 10 runs and one wicket in the T20 series do not do justice to Pandya’s capabilities, and he himself would be the first to realize that. Given how crucial it is for Pandya to be at his best, for India, especially with the balance to the team the all-rounder brings, he will look to get back into rhythm in the upcoming IPL before the World Cup.
Back in Contention
Bhuvaneshwar Kumar was definitely one. Injuries and the emergence of quite a few promising fast bowlers over the last few years meant Kumar hadn’t gotten the chances he would have hoped for. Going into the series, Kumar knew it was his final chance to make a case for the spot in the T20 world.
Being the most experienced bowler and leader of the attack, Kumar was almost back to his brilliant best. With five wickets in three matches at a miserly economy of 5.4, Kumar showed why he still is one of the country’s best. Handy contributions with the bat mean India gets a useful lower order batsman, which they have desperately sought.
Along with Kumar, Kuldeep Yadav was another one who had fallen out of the selector’s visions. Poor performances and a different team setup meant Yadav hardly had any game time leading into the Sri Lanka tour. With his spot under scrutiny and being watched like a hawk by critics and fans alike, Yadav knew what he had to do. He might not have been the leading wicket-taker, but Yadav reminded us why he is so highly rated. His spells in the final two T20s, especially the second T20, would have certainly put him back in contention for a place in the World T20 squad.
If India were to pick one positive from the Sri Lankan tour, it would have to be Suryakumar Yadav. Yadav was just a pleasure to watch whenever he batted, and for someone making his ODI debut, he never looked out of place. Calm, composed, and elegant, Yadav, even though in his 30s, has put his name in contention for India’s main squad. Doing whatever the team needed him to do, Yadav ended the ODI series with an average of 62, striking at 122. His performance in Sri Lanka has already put him on the flight to England to join the main squad, but the late Covid scenario has put his England call in the cloud. Irrespective of whether he goes to England or not, Yadav has proved himself to earn a place with the big boys and most likely will do so very soon.
The Lion Roars Back
After being comfortably beaten in the opening two matches of the ODI series, the Lanka Lions fought back to take one game in the series before making a remarkable comeback in the T20 series to claim their first T20 series win over India.
One can argue, the final two T20s that Sri Lanka won were over a very inexperienced Indian side but that doesn’t matter.
When one looks back on the series, the story will be Sri Lanka beat India, not about who played and who did not. And as far as it goes about India’s bench strength, as proven, India’s reserve players are supremely talented in their rights, and each of them can single-handedly win matches on their days. On top of that, Sri Lanka themselves have a relatively young side with the Lankans, just like their visitors, handing out multiple debuts over the course of both the series.
From Sri Lanka’s point of view, definite talking points of the series will be Wanindu Hasaranga, who was just brilliant throughout the series, leaving the Indian batsmen bamboozled. Seven wickets in the T20 series, including a stunning 4/9 in the final T20, aptly handed Hasaranga the Player of the Series award. Along with that and his No. 2 rankings in the ICC rankings, in Hasaranga, Sri Lanka might just have found the bright star for the future.
Lankan cricket’s future looks promising under their captain Dasun Shanka. Leading from the front with the bat and ball, Shanka was just at his calculated best throughout the series. He knew when to apply the pressure on the opponents to kill the game. After running through almost half a dozen captains over the last few years in the three formats, Sri Lanka would look to invest in Shanka to rebuild a team to take them back to the top.