When India took the field against Sri Lanka in the series-opener last week, few expected the Rohit Sharma-led side to be so thoroughly run over by the hosts. Powered by a stunning 37-ball 66 from Kusal Perera, Sri Lanka overcame middle-order hiccups to register a five-wicket win.
The template of the loss, however, was laid in the first innings when India batted. They lost skipper Rohit when the scoreboard showed a solitary run, and by the time the second over ended, Suresh Raina had been sent back by Nuwan Pradeep.
Sri Lanka pressed on relentlessly with the felicity of a well-oiled forward line of a top-notch football club, and though Shikhar Dhawan, who had a stellar series in South Africa, stemmed the rot in the company of Manish Pandey, it was the latter’s 35-ball 37 that failed to provide momentum to India innings.
The duo still added 95 runs from 68 balls, thanks largely to Dhawan’s 49-ball 90. Pandey too redeemed himself against Bangladesh with a 19-ball unbeaten 27 against Bangladesh.
The crucial call that the Indian camp will have to take on Monday would be on deciding over Rishabh Pant. Known for his aggressive style of play, the Delhi left-hander has been picked solely for his big-hitting capabilities, but has summarily failed to make an impression.
His penchant to hit across the line with lot of bottom hand has led him in losing his shape, and the dual-paced Sri Lankan wickets have not helped his timing. Against Bangladesh, he was sent in at the fall of first wicket, but he fluffed the rare opportunity.
Passing judgements over a precociously talented youngster may be too early, and indeed too harsh, but such are the dynamics of modern-day cricket that it will not be entirely surprising if KL Rahul or the untested Deepak Hooda are given a go in his place. They do have some pedigree; Rahul has scored a T20I hundred from No 4 while chasing, while Hooda is feared in the domestic circuit for his brutal big-hitting capabilities.
India’s biggest concern though would be the form of their skipper. Rohit’s enviable limited-overs’ record against Sri Lanka counted for nothing in the series-opener as he was sent back for a duck. Against Bangladesh, he showed signs of returning to form with a reasonably fluent start, but had just 17 runs to show for his efforts. He had a forgettable tour of South Africa, and it’s not often that he endures such long lean patches. With two of India’s top three having got out cheaply in both matches, it would be interesting to see if India tweak their batting order once again.
The bowlers have had a bad day and a good day in the series so far, and worryingly for India, their bad day came against the hosts.
The result of first T20I became a foregone conclusion by the end of sixth over of Sri Lanka innings, in which the islanders plundered 75 runs for the loss of two wickets as compared to India’s 40. India did mount a mini comeback in the middle overs, but early-overs hemorrhage proved too much.
Speedsters Jaydev Unadkat, Shardul Thakur, and Vijay Shankar went for a combined 92 runs from 8.3 overs at an economy rate of 11.04 for the lone success against Sri Lanka. In particular, they came unstuck against a rampant Perera, whose toll of 27 runs from one Thakur over (including a no-ball) virtually ended the contest.
India would be wary of him and Kusal Mendis, who struck a 48-ball 74 and 30-ball 57 respectively against Bangladesh on Saturday propelling the Islanders to 214/6 from their 20 overs. That it didn’t prove enough against the spirited assault of Mushfiqur Rahim in no way lessens the threat against a power-packed Sri Lankan top-order.
After all the familiarity arising from a glut of matches in recent years, an interesting T20I awaits India and Sri Lanka, with the hosts enjoying a marginal upper hand. Who would have thought?