Yet another assignment kicks off for the Indian cricket team when they take on hosts Sri Lanka in the opening game of the triangular series for the Nidahas Trophy, with Bangladesh very much in the fray this time around.
While both Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are missing key personnel from their squad, the Indian squad that landed in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo only a couple of days ago couldn't have looked any more different. It's almost as if the Indian selectors decided to give the bench strength enough opportunities in a single tour — only sending them to the neighbouring island instead of Zimbabwe.
The side led by Rohit Sharma has a few big names such as Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul and Suresh Raina, but largely retains a new look with the selectors deciding to rest key seniors such as Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, etc.
Looking for an opportunity to impress the selectors as well as the team management ahead of the more crucial tours to England and Australia will be the non-regulars such as Dinesh Karthik, Mohammed Siraj, Rishabh Pant, Shardul Thakur and Jaydev Unadkat. Manish Pandey has had a decent performance or two to speak of from the South African tour, and looks certain to occupy a middle-order slot.
Also looking to make an impact will be the uncapped Baroda and Sunrisers Hyderabad all-rounder Deepak Hooda, who will be hoping to make his big debut in the blue Indian jersey at some point in this tour. The other key point to note as far as the Indians go is Yuzvendra Chahal, who will be bowling in the middle stages of the innings without his regular partner Kuldeep Yadav.
In Yadav's absence, Chahal's rhythm had taken a beating in the T20I series against South Africa. It remains to be seen how he teams up with Axar Patel and Washington Sundar — the latter had a good run against the Lankans in the limited-overs series at home earlier in December.
As far as the hosts go, the absence of wicketkeeper and explosive batsman Niroshan Dickwella — who was dropped after a string of poor performances — is the major change to the Sri Lankan line-up along with the injury-forced exit of Angelo Mathews, who suffered yet another hamstring niggle. Dickwella might have had a poor run in the recent Bangladesh tour, in which they squared off in an ODI tri-series that also featured Zimbabwe, but India will be happy to tick out the risk of him returning to form in the tournament that marks 70 years of Sri Lankan independence.
The Lankans hope Kusal Perera, often compared to the legendary Sanath Jayasuriya for his batting style, will be able to fill in the void as he dons the keeper's gloves.
Among the other players in focus from the Sri Lankan camp will be Thisara Perera, who was in good nick in the ODI tri-series in Bangladesh both with bat and ball (134 runs and 11 wickets), as well as opener Kusal Mendis, who struck match-winning half-centuries in each game of the two-match T20I series against the 'Tigers'.
As far as the third team of the tournament goes, the fact that they will continue to play without the presence of star all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan comes as yet another blow in a tournament in which they would want to assert themselves against their more fancied neighbours. Shakib failed to recover in time from the finger injury that he had sustained in the triangular series in January, and the selectors decided not to risk him any further, instead picking vice-captain Mahmudullah as the leader of the pack. Bangladesh play their first game against the Indians two days after the tournament opener.
The stand-in captain had finished second in the run-getters list in the T20Is against Sri Lanka, and will be a vital cog in their batting order in this series. The presence of the run-machine that is Tamim Iqbal also comes as an assurance for the side.
Given the fact that Sri Lankan tracks produce as much as turn as they do in India, if not more, the spin departments of all three sides will be in focus more often than not in the series, and thus the spotlight is likely to fall on the likes of Chahal, Mehidy Hasan and Akila Dananjaya, who incidentally rocked the Indian team in a sensational spell at Pallekele in August last year.
Despite the fact that India go in as favourites into the tournament, given the sheer depth in their ranks, skipper Rohit played down that tag ahead of the first game against Sri Lanka.
"T20 is such a format where any team can win on that particular day. The game can change in a span of one over, it can slip away On a given day, any team can beat anyone. How do I explain it? Its like the English Premier League. Some teams may be stronger, but anyone can win on a given day," said Rohit in a press conference on Monday.
Let's hope his words ring true in the series that kicks off on Tuesday, and that we get to see a tightly-contested, unpredictable series where any side is a favourite on a given day.
Bangladesh squad: Mahmudhullah (c), Abu Hider, Abu Jayed, Ariful Haque, Imrul Kayes, Mehidy Hasan, Mushfiqur Rahim, Mustafizur Rahman, Nazmul Islam, Nurul Hasan, Rubel Hossain, Sabbir Rahman, Soumya Sarkar, Tamim Iqbal, Taskin Ahmed.
India squad: Rohit Sharma (c), Shikhar Dhawan, Yuzvendra Chahal, Deepak Hooda, Dinesh Karthik, Mohammed Siraj, Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant (wk), Axar Patel, KL Rahul, Suresh Raina, Vijay Shankar, Shardul Thakur, Jaydev Unadkat, Washington Sundar.
Sri Lanka squad: Dinesh Chandimal (c), Suranga Lakmal, Amila Aponso, Dushmantha Chameera, Akila Dananjaya, Dhananjaya de Silva, Nuwan Pradeep, Danushka Gunathilaka, Kusal Mendis, Jeevan Mendis, Kusal Perera, Thisara Perera, Dasun Shanaka, Upul Tharanga, Isuru Udana.