The pandemic has struck India's tour of Sri Lanka twice now. It first postponed the start of the ODI series. Now, after Krunal Pandya returning a positive test, it has pushed the second T20I a day ahead and will now be played on Wednesday (July 28). Although, the effect this time is far greater. Krunal's positive test has forced eight unspecified individuals in the Indian camp into isolation as well. Most of them are known to be players and won't be travelling to the ground for the second T20I.
Going back a few days, Sri Lanka were finally able to break their losing streak against India, defeating them in the third ODI. They forced enough errors from a raw Indian side which had five debutants. On Wednesday evening, India will again take the field with a depleted side, this time not by choice. Sri Lanka have a chance to level the series.
However, they will need to work on their biggest deterrent - batting. Except Charith Asalanka, no one got going in the second T20I. In addition, Ashen Bandara played a forgettable knock of 9 off 19 balls at the make-or-break point in the run chase. Ultimately, Sri Lanka lost another T20I. They have now won only one of their last 14 T20Is.
It is a common knowledge now that Sri Lanka’s batting struggle in white-ball cricket. When it comes to T20s, they are at the back of the que. Their last five T20I totals read 126 all out, 91 all out, 111 for seven, 129 for seven, 131 for four, all after winning the toss. Their last 170-plus total came in March, 2018. They are in desperate need of batting firepower but have three batsmen from their first-choice XI suspended and one injured.
On top of that, the pitch at the R. Premadasa Stadium has shown enough help for the slower bowlers which makes power-hitting a much harder task. In the four white-ball games of this series, spinners have bagged 30 wickets, three more than the pacers.
It seemed strange when Sri Lanka replaced Bhanuka Rajaspaksa with Bandara in the first T20I. Rajapaksa who made his debut in the ODI series appeared a lot more comfortable against spin. His strike-rate of 100 against spin was the highest amongst all Sri Lankan batsmen during the ODI series.
India have been better in negating spin. They have lost wickets too but with the likes of Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan, the strike-rate has been up against the tweakers. Surya was the difference in the first T20I, scoring at 164.3 on the 14 balls he faced versus spin.
It is not clear if Surya and Prithvi Shaw will be available for the second T20I. Surya’s unavailability in that case can be a void to fill. There are top-order options to replace Shaw but Surya is the only batsman to have created some sort of impact in every game since the tour has begun.
The Hardik Pandya conundrum
It is absolutely normal to have a bad day at the office but Hardik Pandya has had quite a few of those in a row of late. His travails were summed up by a straightforward catch he dropped at extra cover in the first T20I. As a bowler Hardik has picked up three wickets but the fall in his batting numbers is now creeping towards a concerning territory. He averages only 14.8 with the bat in T20s in 2021, his lowest in a calendar year.
Hardik is an important player from the context of India’s World Cup preparations. He is one of the boxes India are aiming to tick on this tour and will attract most eyeballs.
Well, this is an odd match-up, isn’t it? Sanju Samson has faced Wanindu Hasaranga twice in T20Is and on both occasions, it took the leg-spinner only a delivery to get rid of the right-hander. The mode of dismissal has also been the same. Samson has failed to pick Hasaranga’s googly to be caught plumb in front of the stumps. Since 2020, Samson averages 30.1 against leg-spinners at a healthy strike-rate of 139.7. There is no hint of him struggling against this bowling type. It would be interesting to see if Hasaranga can make it three in three in the second T20I.
Apart from swapping Bandara with Rajapaksa, we might also see Praveen Jayawickrama replace Akila Dananjaya. The wrist-spinner conceded 40 off his three overs without taking a wicket and with Hasaranga back, Jayawickrama can get a go to add the variety of left-arm spin. A three-for in the third ODI makes his case stronger.
Sri Lanka: Avishka Fernando, Minod Bhanuka (wk), Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Charith Asalanka, Dhananjaya de Silva, Dasun Shanaka (c), Wanindu Hasaranga, Chamika Karunaratne, Isuru Udana, Praveen Jayawickrama, Dushmantha Chameera
The situation around India is delicate. Not only are we unaware of who are the players forced into the quarantine, there is also no news about how many of them are unavailable. Hence, what XI are they able to put on the park is already the most fascinating aspect of this fixture. There is a good chance we might see one of the net bowlers make their debut.