After an eventful Test series that ended on a competitive note, Sri Lanka now prepare to take on India in the 50-over leg of their ongoing tour, with the first fixture of the three-match series taking place in the cool climes of Dharamsala on Sunday.
The Tests saw Sri Lanka produce the kind of fight that was missing in their home series against the same opposition earlier this year, in which they were thoroughly routed in each game. Barring the Nagpur game, the visitors showed character everytime, whether it was running through the famed Indian batting line-up in Kolkata, or the young batsmen in their middle order taking charge to help the visitors salvage a draw in Delhi. After their 2-0 sweep over Pakistan and the two draws against India, it would seem that Sri Lanka’s days of struggle are over, at least as far as the longest format is concerned.
However, the Lankans still have some distance to cover as far as the shorter formats are concerned. So desperate have they been in their search for consistency in limited overs, that one could almost consider their seven-wicket win over India in the Champions Trophy in June as their brightest moment this year. Since then, they have suffered an ODI series loss to Zimbabwe, and lost every game in the home series against India, as well as during the tour of UAE.
Add the absence of Dinesh Chandimal, who was the highest run-getter in the Test series after the magnificent Virat Kohli, and veteran pacer Lasith Malinga, and the islanders already find themselves in a state of quandary. Not that Malinga has been in the best of form of late, but his presence helps give a sense of leadership to the bowling attack.
Which will then leave Nuwan Pradeep, who has been added to the squad along with Asela Gunaratne and Danushka Gunathilaka, with the responsibility of restricting the Indian batting order. Aiding him will be Suranga Lakmal, who bowled a vicious spell at the Eden Gardens but has not quite found his rhythm since.
In the batting unit, Gunathilaka and Gunaratne are expected to bear a major load of responsibility alongside Angelo Mathews, who returned to form in the Delhi Test with a century. With Upul Tharanga vacating the captain’s post for Thisara Perera in the batting unit, one might expect him to provide stability at the top of the order.
As far as the Indians are concerned, the absence of the talismanic Kohli, who earned a well-deserved break after playing non-stop since the Indian Premier League (IPL) this year, might have some impact on their batting performances. Which is where stand-in captain Rohit Sharma, who assumes this role for the first time in his international career, has to step up.
Under pressure will be Ajinkya Rahane, after an underwhelming run in the Test series. Even though his spot in the Indian team isn’t under threat at the moment, performing in the series will help restore his confidence and repel critics for now.
Kedar Jadhav, meanwhile, was ruled out of the series due to an hamstring injury and young Tamil Nadu all-rounder Washington Sundar has been named as his replacement. It will also be interesting to see if Sundar, who had failed the crucial yo-yo test not too long back, and cleared it in a subsequesnt attempt, does actually make his India debut.
The series could also could help the likes of Shreyas Iyer and the uncapped Siddarth Kaul try and make a place for themselves in the team. The addition of Kaul in the side has shown the MSK Prasad-led selection panel’s vision as far as rewarding talents in the domestic circuit is concerned.
The HPCA Stadium, which is India’s answer to South Africa's Newlands and New Zealand's Queenstown in terms of the most scenic cricket grounds of the world, will be expected to assist the pacers this time around as well, with strong winds at the venue being a major factor in this regard. Keeping the wintery conditions in mind, the BCCI has decided to advance the start time to 11.30 am from the usual 2 pm.
What remains to be seen is whether we see the competitiveness between the two sides carried over to the shorter formats from the Tests or not. A ground as picturesque as Dharamsala would be an ideal place to find out.
India: Rohit Sharma (c), Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav, Dinesh Karthik, MS Dhoni (wk), Hardik Pandya, Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Siddarth Kaul.
Sri Lanka: Thisara Perera (c), Upul Tharanga, Danushka Gunathilaka, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Sadeera Samarawickrama, Lahiru Thirimanne, Angelo Mathews, Asela Gunaratne, Chathuranga de Silva, Sachith Pathirana, Akila Dananjaya, Jeffrey Vandersay, Dushmantha Chameera, Suranga Lakmal, Nuwan Pradeep.
Time: 11.30 am
Where: HPCA Stadium, Dharamsala.
Editor's note: The preview has been updated after news of Kedar Jadhav's exit from the ODI series due to injury.