India continued their winning streak and added one more win to their tally against Sri Lanka, when they pummeled the visitors comprehensively by seven wickets in the second match of the three-match T20I series in Indore. After this triumph, the hosts lead the series 1-0 as the first match was washed out due to rain and a wet outfield in Guwahati. Both teams will now head to Pune for the third and final T20I that is scheduled to be held at Maharashtra Cricket Stadium on January 10.
Overall, this was India’s 12th victory from 17 meetings in the shortest format against the Islanders. Since 2019, Sri Lanka have lost 10 matches out of 11 under the leadership of Lasith Malinga which the team management must be concerned about.
Sri Lanka need to focus on their middle-order in order to strengthen their team. In the last match, they started well but lost their way soon after as they attempted to accelerate in the middle overs. After openers Danushka Gunathilaka (20) and Avishka Fernando (22), and number three Kusal Perera (34) - none of the Sri Lankan batsmen could make it to even 20.
The away side have a decent opening record with an average of 23.64 since 2019 at the top of the order as compared to their middle-order batsmen (numbers 3-7), who have an abysmal record during the same period. Since 2019, Sri Lanka’s middle-order is one of the lowest-performing units with an average of 20.62 while scoring at a run-rate of 7.57.
On the other hand, India started the year on a positive note. For the next match, they might go for some experiments to test their bench strength. Ravindra Jadeja, Sanju Samson and Manish Pandey could get a game.
In the last match, the hosts did not disappoint during any phase of the match. Indian bowlers restricted the opponent to a below-par total of 142 on one of the best pitches for batting in the country. Right-arm fast bowlers Saini and Thakur provided ideal bench strength in the absence of Deepak Chahar and Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
Saini grabbed two wickets at an economy rate of 4.5 in his four overs, the best by a bowler in the match. On the other hand, Thakur struck thrice - all in one over - at an economy rate of 5.8 and a strike rate of 8.
Saini especially impressed everyone with his pace and guile. He bowled quick bouncers at 140 plus kph to hurry up the opposition’s batsmen and changed his pace when it was required to deceive them, a must-have skillset to excel in T20 cricket. In his short T20I career, Saini has bowled 39% of his deliveries at 140 kph or more and 12% below 120 kph. With his splendid performance, he has made a good case for his inclusion for the upcoming T20 World Cup. However, he will have to maintain such form in the upcoming games.
Jasprit Bumrah, coming back from an injury was not at his best and will be keen to make a mark in the next match in Pune. Left-arm off spinner Kuldeep Yadav, who took two wickets for 38 runs in the last match, could retain his place.
The pitch at Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium is favourable for all bowling types except left-arm orthodox bowlers. So Bumrah, Kuldeep, Saini and Thakur have a chance to make it big again for the team. However, in the last ten encounters, India have lost only once against Sri Lanka and that came in 2017 in Pune.
India’s batting unit, especially the top order will look to build on from where they left off in the first T20I. KL Rahul, who provided a perfect start to India’s innings by scoring 45 off 32 deliveries, taking India to 54 for no loss in six overs in the last match, has found a good rhythm in the 20-over format. In Indore, he was the one who scored all the boundaries in the powerplay.
Since 2019, in the powerplay overs in T20Is, Rahul has a strike rate of 154.2. He’s gotten out only twice in nine innings, in the powerplay. He consistently pierces the field and finds the boundary easily with 71.1% of his runs coming from fours and sixes during the powerplay. Overall, Rahul is third in the list of Best Strike Rate in Powerplay among players who have played five or more innings since 2019 in T20Is among the top 10 teams.
Rahul's brisk innings provided Shikhar Dhawan with an opportunity to ease into the international scene after returning from an injury. Until now Shreyas Iyer has solved's Virat Kohli's headache of the number four position in limited over cricket. Iyer has hit four 50s in the last 5 ODI innings and has not scored below 20 when he has batted above number 4 in T20Is. Given Virat Kohli's performance and form, India’s top order looks to be in good shape. We may witness wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant being promoted up the order to provide him more match time in the future like Shivam Dube was promoted to number 3 in the Thiruvananthapuram T20I against West Indies, where he scored 54 off 30.
The Pune T20I is going to be a do-or-die battle for Sri Lanka to level the series, whereas India may try out some new things keeping the bigger picture of the T20 World Cup ahead in their mind.