Virat Kohli-led India will look to start afresh when they welcome continental rivals Sri Lanka for a three-match T20I series starting on Sunday.
With 2019 being a year of mixed fortunes for the Men in Blue with the highlight being a semi-final exit from the World Cup, 2020 will have them shift focus towards the shortest format with the ICC T20 World Cup to be held in Australia.
The last bilateral series between the two sides came more than two years back, when India outplayed Sri Lanka across all formats in December 2017.
While fit-again Jasprit Bumrah returning to the squad is undoubtedly a major boost for the hosts, injuries to the experienced Bhuvneshwar Kumar and the rising star Deepak Chahar have meant that the likes of Shardul Thakur and Navdeep Saini have been given another go in the series.
Elsewhere, Rohit Sharma has been given a well-deserved rest for the T20Is after a busy year and that means Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul will open in all likelihood.
For Sri Lanka, Angelo Mathews makes the Lasith Malinga-led T20I squad for the first time in 16 months, while this will be the first tour to India for the likes of Oshada Fernando and Bhanuka Rajapaksa.
Ahead of the T20Is, here are a few player battles that could determine the series:
Angelo Mathews vs Jasprit Bumrah
Both players are returning to the national set-up for T20Is after a prolonged time with Sri Lanka’s Angelo Mathews set to play his first T20I in two years.
Despite his absence from the shortest format, Mathews still remains an integral part of the side thanks to his experience and game-changing abilities. With 1055 runs and 37 wickets in 72 T20Is, Mathews will be expected to play a huge role under pressure and utilise his finishing abilities.
For Bumrah, Sri Lanka are his third most lucrative opponents. He boasts of a tremendous record against the Islanders: six wickets in seven matches. His preparations, too, have been in full tilt ahead of his comeback from a back injury, and will undoubtedly be the go-to man in India’s pace bowling department, which consists of Thakur and Saini.
Virat Kohli vs Lasith Malinga
A battle between India’s best batsman and Sri Lanka’s best bowler. Kohli owns a record of scoring a half century in each of his four innings he has played against Sri Lanka in T20Is. And if you go by Virat Kohli just doing Kohli things, Sri Lanka could well be the opponent he registers his maiden T20I ton against.
However, he comes up against a formidable speedster in Malinga. Malinga is coming off a 2019 where he took 14 wickets from 10 matches with highlights of a hat-trick and becoming first to 100 T20I wickets.
Having said that, Malinga has hardly seen out of touch and will be poised to continue his stupendous form leading up to the ICC T20 World Cup in Australia later this year.
Washington Sundar vs Sri Lanka batsmen
Washington Sundar may be relatively new to the senior Indian set-up, but he surely cannot be written off. Although he has played just three T20Is against Sri Lanka, he has scalped five wickets at an overall economy rate of 5.91.
Sri Lankan batsmen generally tend to struggle against spin, and that could be where India have an advantage, especially when their opponents’ batting line-up looks young and inexperienced.
While Sundar is a definite candidate to make the playing XI, one of Yuzvendra Chahal or Kuldeep Yadav could be benched in favour of Ravindra Jadeja, as India eye depth in batting too.
Kusal Perera vs India
One of the few experienced batsmen in the visitors’ side, one would recall the 37-ball knock of 77 against India the last time the Lankan toured the country in 2017-18. A few months later, he went on to score 66 runs in a Nidahas Trophy contest against the same opponents.
Having said that, the Lankans would depend on his big-hitting skills to provide an uplift to the team in case the visitors are left to struggle.
He seems to enjoy batting against Asian teams, with a few fifties against Bangladesh and Pakistan. His recent contribution came in a T20I against Australia, when he scored 57 which unfortunately went in vain.
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