With India's premier fast bowlers Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah being rested, the Nidahas Trophy provides an ideal opportunity for the fringe fast bowlers like Jaydev Unadkat, Shardul Thakur and Mohammed Siraj to prove their worth with eye-catching performances.
Although Unadkat and Thakur have grabbed all the opportunities that have come their way in recent times with both hands, Siraj has failed to make a case for himself in the couple of opportunities provided to him so far.
Unadkat is already pushing his case for an ODI berth on the back of strong T20I performances against Sri Lanka at home and in the recently-concluded series in South Africa as well. Seven wickets in the last five T20Is at an average of 17 and economy rate of 7.25 justify his credentials as a good limited-overs format bowler. Thakur has also shown his ability as an ideal fast-bowling option working up good pace in all his matches so far. His spell of 4/52 in the final ODI against South Africa was an ideal example where he showcased all his skills.
Siraj, on the other hand, didn't look ready at all for his break at the international stage in both the matches he has played in so far. He proved to be very expensive in those matches - one against New Zealand and another against Sri Lanka - managing only two wickets at a dismal average of 49 and a monstrous economy rate of 12.25.
So it becomes very important for Siraj to mend his mistakes now and produce something special in the upcoming tri-series because there is no dearth of fast-bowling options in India at present.
Indian bowling coach Bharat Arun recently mentioned that the primary motive behind resting the senior bowlers like Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah for the Nidahas Trophy is to test their bench strength by giving the fringe bowlers ample opportunities to prove their mettle.
"Yes, the Sri Lanka T20 tri-series will give us ample opportunity to test the bench strength of our pace bowling unit. We have two world class operators in Bhuvi and Bumrah but we have also created a good pool. The pacers (Siraj, Thakur and Unadkat) who are going to Sri Lanka will be looking forward to grabbing the opportunity," Arun told PTI.
Indian fast bowling is in a very healthy condition right now as more and more talented young fast bowlers are making their presence felt with blistering performances day by day.
Bowlers like Navdeep Saini and Rajneesh Gurbaani are eagerly waiting for their opportunity to represent India in national colours after delivering strong domestic performances. Moreover, the rise of even younger bowlers in the likes of Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Shivam Mavi and Ishan Porel suggests that the future of Indian fast bowling is pretty bright.
In these circumstances, it becomes even more important for Siraj to perform well in this series. Another bad outing in this series can rule him out of contention from the Indian side for the future considering the wide pool of fast bowlers India have at their disposal.
However, the 23-year old should approach this series confidently instead of coming into it with a low morale. He should take confidence from his Indian Premier League (IPL) performance last year. He claimed 10 wickets in six matches at an impressive average of 21.2 and an eye-catching strike rate of 13.80.
If that is not enough, he should go and read his List A and First Class statistics once again. It will suggest that he is no less a bowler than others. He emerged as his state's highest wicket-taker in the 2016-17 Ranji season claiming 41 wickets in nine matches. He also has impressive returns of 43 wickets in 20 matches at an average of 19.67 as far as List A cricket is concerned.
He should try to learn from his domestic outings and derive confidence from those. Overall economy rates of 2.89 and 5.12 in First Class and List A cricket suggest that he is as much an economical bowler in those two formats as he is a wicket-taking bowler.
However, an overall economy rate of 8.40 in T20s, including six IPL matches in which his economy reads 9.21, suggests that he lacks discipline or lacks the skill set to bowl in the shortest format despite the fact that he picks up wickets.
So Siraj has to understand that the shortest format and the two other longer formats are completely different versions of the game. The line, lengths and pace that would work in First Class and List A cricket won't work at all in the T20 format. The shortest version of the game demands totally different lengths and tricky variations to outfox the batsmen who have the upper hand always. Pace and swing alone is not enough to get on top of the batsmen in T20s.
If he has worked on improving these things during the time he has got since his last outing in Indian colours, he will definitely be a much-improved bowler by now. The Nidahas Trophy is a make or break series for him and he will be eager to make his importance and presence felt in the Indian team.