MUMBAI: By and large, the white-ball series between India and Sri Lanka, considering the deteriorating quality of the latter, doesn’t offer much excitement.
Jostling for attention with the Tokyo Olympics, the contest, which begins with the first ODI on Sunday at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo after the beginning was delayed by five days due to multiple Covid cases in the Lankan camp, will struggle to catch people’s attention unless it produces something special.
However, its timing — it is the last limited-overs series that India play before the T20 World Cup in October-November in UAE — makes it slightly more relevant and worth following.
Led by the experienced Shikhar Dhawan, a plethora of newcomers and tried and tested players will look to make their case for a berth for the mega tournament by performing well in these six-match limited overs games, which involve three ODIs and as many T20Is.
How well does youngster Prithvi Shaw, who was the top run-getter in the Vijay Hazare Trophy earlier this year, perform upon his return to the Indian team, when he opens alongside Dhawan, should make for a good watch.
Can a few runs in Lanka help him catch a quick flight to England, where he can perhaps replace an injured Shubman Gill in time for the Test series there?
The focus will also be on Hardik Pandya’s bowling workload on the tour. Due to an injury, the all-rounder didn’t bowl at all in the IPL, but India want him to turn his arm over to give balance to their attack. Seamer Bhuvneshwar Kumar, the vice-captain for this sojourn, will be itching to silence his critics.
With Shaw around, it remains to be seen whether Devdutt Padikkal will be left warming the benches or will he be accommodated at No 3, where even Ruturaj Gaikwad can get his maiden chance.
In the middle-order, Suryakumar Yadav will look to carry on his good show, while Manish Pandey gets another chance to prove his worth.
Like Surya, ‘keeper-batsman Ishan Kishan impressed with a half-century on debut against England. Both Surya and Kishan can raise the excitement level with their stroke-making.
This is the first time that batting legend Rahul Dravid, the NCA head coach, will be the head coach of the Indian team. Even if the main side is in England for the Tests, Dravid’s role on this trip will be keenly followed by BCCI’s top honchos. While there are none in England so far, there are two selectors in Lanka.
It will, however, be interesting to see how much weight do runs and wickets carry against an opposition which is just coming off a horror tour of England and is supposed to play in the qualifiers of the T20 World Cup. To make it worse, their key players — Kusal Mendis and Niroshan Dickwella — are suspended from the India series due to a breach of bio-bubble rules.
With Kusal Perera out injured, Sri Lanka will be led by Dashun Shanaka in this series. That Shanaka is the 10th captain Sri Lanka have had in the past four years gives you an idea of the shoddy state of Sri Lankan cricket at the moment.