Familiar foes India and Sri Lanka will kickstart the T20 format in the year 2020 as they face each other in a three-match series at the Barsapara Cricket Stadium, in Guwahati on Sunday (January 5).
1983 was the last time India and Sri Lanka did not meet in a calendar year, so in some ways it is fitting that these two sides start off the T20s in a year when the T20 World Cup will be held.
It has been contrasting fortunes for the two sides in the shortest format of the game in the recent past. While India have won seven of their last ten T20Is, Sri Lanka have lost six of their last ten games. The head to head record is also stacked firmly in favour of the hosts. India have won 11 of the 16 T20 Internationals played between the two nations with only five going to Sri Lanka. India hold a 4-1 lead in the last five T20Is as well while the last five T20 games between the two sides in India have all been taken by the hosts.
It won't be an exaggeration to say that if Sri Lanka indeed manage to get past India, it would be an upset of sorts.
If 2019 was all about focussing on 50-over format, the current year will witness the Indian team playing T20 games in majority before their T20 World Cup campaign starts against South Africa in Perth in October.
India have most of their bases covered and with Jasprit Bumrah back in the ranks, the hosts will be even more confident. They have rested Rohit Sharma with Shikhar Dhawan back in the mix after an injury. While Bumrah predictably grabs more eyeballs, the series is also important for Dhawan, making a comeback into the team post knee injury.
Dhawan is coming off a century in Ranji Trophy for Delhi while KL Rahul has shown consistency in the last year. 2019 was a reversal in fortunes for Rahul as he became a more permanent member of the side, at least in the shortest format of the game. He scored 356 runs in nine innings last year averaging a strong 44.5. His record against Sri Lanka is also pretty good.
Virat Kohli will bat no.3 and will look to continue his excellent run of form. The leading run-scorer for India in T20Is last year, Kohli was great across formats. In 10 T20I innings, the Indian captain amassed 466 runs averaging a hefty 77.67. Furthermore, his record against Sri Lanka is also terrific. In four T20Is against the islanders, Kohli has slammed 283 runs averaging 94.33 having scored a half-century each time he has faced them.
This series presents the likes of Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant and Shivam Dube, all looking for a permanent place in the side, a perfect chance. Pant had a few good outings against the West Indies in the recently concluded series and will want a few good hits out considering Sanju Samson is running close on his heels.
On the bowling front, India will welcome the return of Jasprit Bumrah, who has been out of action for a while owing to a back injury. He will lead the bowling attack and the Indian team would be checking out how the likes Navdeep Saini and Shardul Thakur react to pressure situations in death overs alongside Bumrah in the absence of frontline speedsters Mohammed Shami (rested), Deepak Chahar (stress fracture) and Bhuvneshwar Kumar (sports hernia).
Sri Lanka, on the other hand, have a mountain to climb. In their last T20I series, they suffered a 0-3 rout in Australia as all their batsmen struggled. Only Kusal Perera showed some sort of form during the time and he will be the mainstay of the batting lineup once again, alongside the likes of Danushka Gunathilaka and Kusal Mendis.
The Islanders would also look forward to the return of former Sri Lankan captain, Angelo Mathews, who last played a T20I against South Africa in August 2018.
Sri Lanka did, however, whitewash Pakistan 3-0 recently and will want to take some confidence from there. Leg-spinner Wanindu Hasaranga led the bowling in Pakistan with eight wickets from three matches at 9.87 but was ineffective in Australia as he will also look to contribute.
The pace department will be led by the evergreen Lasith Malinga with the likes of Isuru Udana and Lahiru Kumara to back him up. It will be a steep climb for the Sri Lankan against a raging India but if they can topple the hosts, it will provide the much-needed boost for the rest of the year.
India do not have the best of records in Guwahati. They were handed a severe eight-wicket loss at the hands of Australia at this venue in 2017 where they bowled out for a mere 118.
Another thing that can come in the way of both sides is the weather. It has been raining in Guwahati in the lead up to the first T20I and the forecast for Sunday isn’t too promising either. The temperature is expected to hover around the 18 to 20 degree range with scattered thunderstorms likely throughout the day. We might have a truncated game at our disposal in such a case.
India: Virat Kohli (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant (wk), Shivam Dube, Yuzvendra Chahal, Ravindra Jadeja, Jasprit Bumrah, Shardul Thakur, Navdeep Saini
Sri Lanka: Lasith Malinga (captain), Danushka Gunathilaka, Avishka Fernando, Angelo Mathews, Kusal Perera, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Isuru Udana, Wanindu Hasaranga, Lahiru Kumara, Kusal Mendis, Lakshan Sandakan