Pune, India: Just like the changing ebb and flow in the all of the three-and-a-half hours of a T20 game, perceptions and credentials of a side too change very quickly in this format. Not too long ago, India, ranked eight in the world, was an unsure T20 side with not many matches under its belt. A misfiring MS Dhoni, a middle-order muddle, a bowling crisis, and a World T20 on the horizon; not an ideal situation to be in. Now, a Virat Kohli masterclass, a Rohit Sharma assault, and a whitewash Down Under later, India is ranked one and the squad is pinned down. So much so that India are being called favourites to win the World T20.
More importantly, Dhoni is back to being captain cool. Forget the numbers, the series win in Australia did wonders for India. The top order outdid itself, and in Bumrah, Dhoni found a pacer he could trust. The series also the saw the return of a few weathered heroes of yore in Yuvraj Singh and Ashish Nehra. Suresh Raina, dropped from ODIs, came back in style as well and proved a point.
If India made a statement in Australia, going up against Sri Lanka at home the men in blue will have to put a full-stop at the end of that statement. That this is it, this is how we turn the page and go into the Asia Cup and the World T20.
On that note, India will look to cement their number one status when they begin a three-match series against Sri Lanka Tuesday, their final work-out on home soil before hosting the premier event of the shortest format. Both sides had reached the World T20 final last time around and the island nation had emerged victorious.
Dhoni's side will look to build on their momentum gained in Australia when they face the Graham Ford-coached Sri Lanka.
The series is Ford's first assignment since returning for a second stint in charge of the islanders last week.
After a relatively disappointing tour of Australia, India's spin king Ravichandran Ashwin will look to the series as an opportunity to get back in the groove ahead of the Asia Cup which is being held in Bangladesh ahead of the World T20.
Ashwin, the world's top spinner in Test cricket, was outshone Down Under by Ravindra Jadeja and Jasprit Bumrah but the conditions back home are expected to suit him well.
Dhoni is a big fan of the lanky off-spinnner and told reporters last month that Ashwin's dip in form was due in part to the side's increasing reliance on him in all formats.
"He just makes my job slightly easy, especially for a consistent period of time when my fast bowlers have not done well," Dhoni said in Australia.
"It is good to have him and I think he is a great asset to the side irrespective of the format."
Star batsman Virat Kohli has been rested but India's other big names are set to feature against Sri Lanka, who are the reigning World T20 champions and could leapfrog their hosts in the rankings if they pull off a surprise victory.
Kohli has been replaced by Manish Pandey who struck a century in the last of the ODIs in Australia but failed to make the cut for the World T20 squad that was announced on Friday.
The series could see the young Delhi all-rounder Pawan Negi handed a debut after he was surprisingly picked in the 15-man World T20 squad. Negi has had a whirlwind of a few weeks as he became the costliest Indian player in the IPL Auction after getting a call-up for the national side.
While India carry a familiar look, Sri Lanka have been forced to field a depleted side with a number of their top players staying at home.
The likes of regular T20 skipper Lasith Malinga, Test captain Angelo Mathews and premier spinner Rangana Herath are racing against time to get fit for the World T20.
Having been recently outplayed by New Zealand in the recent Test, ODI and T20 series, Sri Lanka will also be without the services of veteran batsman Tillakaratne Dilshan, who will miss the first game with a hand injury.
Ford, who also coached the islanders from 2012-14, has called for patience as Sri Lanka embark on a rebuilding phase.
"I think Sri Lanka cricket finds itself in the very early stages of a very important rebuilding stage. A lot of hard work needs to be done," the South African said last week.
The result of this three-match series might be inconsequential in the larger scheme of things, but being a precursor to the World T20, both teams stand to learn a lot about themselves and their chances of going all the way in the WorldT20.
The two teams will face each other on February 9 (Pune), February 12 (Ranchi) and February 14 (Visakhapatnam).
India: MS Dhoni (capt), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Manish Pandey, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Ashish Nehra, Harbhajan Singh, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Pawan Negi.
Sri Lanka: Dinesh Chandimal (capt), Tillakaratne Dilshan, Seekkuge Prasanna, Milinda Siriwardana, Danushka Gunathilaka, Thisara Perera, Dasun Shanaka, Asela Gunaratne, Chamara Kapugedera, Dushmantha Chameera, Dilhara Fernando, Kasun Rajitha, Binura Fernando, Sachithra Senanayake, Jeffrey Vandersay.
With AFP inputs
First Published On : Feb 9, 2016 13:06 IST