The Indians were taken aback by what skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni described as an "English" track in Pune. Now that he will be leading in his own backyard before his home fans here, Dhoni can hope to get a bone dry sub-continent wicket at a ground that is hosting its first ever Twenty20 International.
Ahead of the second Twenty20 International (T20I) against Sri Lanka, India team director Ravi Shastri on Thursday said he is aiming at trying all possible combinations to get the best squad prior to the forthcoming World T20 at home next month.
Dhoni's hometown Ranchi is a last-minute replacement for Delhi, which was originally scheduled to host this match. After the decision to shift the match venue, Jharkhand State Cricket Association (JSCA) had exactly 13 days to get the ground ready. The India-SL series is being seen as preparation for the World Twenty20 and a hero's welcome awaits Ranchi's favorite son. This may well be Dhoni's last showing for India on his home ground, reports The Hindu.
India have not lost any game out of three ODIs played here and runs in the vicinity of 300 have been scored in three innings. One match against Australia had no result. But largely, a high-scoring game can be expected at the JSCA International Stadium Complex.
Having whitewashed Australia 3-0 in their own backyard, the Indians were expected to do well at home against the Lankans as they prepare to host the World T20 in March-April. But the youthful Sri Lankan team handed them a rude wake-up call as the island nation defeated India by five wickets in the first match.
"The ideal scenario would be to give most of the guys who are part of the World Cup squad a run. That will be the endeavour, but you will have to see what the conditions are, what the state of the series is and accordingly decide," Shastri said at the pre-match press conference here.
But there are concerns about under-prepared outfield where the fielders are expected to have a tough time. The JSCA officials have argued that they got less time to prepare the ground and as a result many rough patches can be seen on the bald sand-based outfield.
It's tough to recall the last time an international was played on such a barren track, says ESPNcricinfo.
Sri Lanka, with many inexperienced players in the side, have nothing to lose and will go all out to seal the series. However, the job is easier said than done since the Indian batsmen are in good form and will be difficult to contain on a batting track.
The Sri Lankan pace trio of Kasun Rajitha, Dushmantha Chameera and Dasun Shanaka made a good impression on a lively track but they will be tested in Ranchi.
In Australia, where India won 3-0, the Indian middle and lower order hardly got a chance to bat, courtesy supreme form of the top-order batsmen. But the collapse in Pune, where batsmen did not respect the conditions and went for unmindful strokes on a seaming track, brought all batsmen to the crease.
R Ashwin showed that by being little patient, India could have posted at least a fighting if not a defendable total on the board.
With World Twenty20 round the corner, Dhoni would want his batsmen to respond to the conditions mindfully whether in India or in Asia Cup, preceding the big event, where they will enter as the favorites.
And more than anything, Dhoni's own form is something which would be playing on his mind. The remaining two matches in this series and the subsequent Asia Cup is where he can get his mojo back before the World Twenty20.
His image as one of the best finishers of the game has taken a beating with repeated failures and for setting things right, his home ground is an ideal platform.
It will be good for India if Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja, Yuvraj Singh and Hardik Pandya get more overs under their belt before the World Cup.
Dhoni would also like to give pacers Ashish Nehra and Jasprit Bumrah more opportunities and it will be interesting to see if Bhuvneshwar Kumar gets a game. With Ashwin doing a reasonably good job, Harbhajan Singh may have to sit out again.
T20 is a format where even small nations can topple established cricket forces since one or two good overs – in either bowling or batting -- can change the match situation quickly. And that makes it interesting to watch.