Sri Lanka recently got their preparation for next year’s T20 World Cup underway with an impressive 3-0 whitewash over the No. 1 ranked side Pakistan in the latter’s own den. What was more impressive was that Sri Lanka achieved the feat without their regular skipper Lasith Malinga and a few other senior players.
Australia, on the other hand, will look for a positive start as they begin to set their roadmap for the mega event at home. They do not have the best of records in T20Is at home against Sri Lanka, having won just one out of their six matches. Given Sri Lanka’s current form, it will not be surprising to see them improve on their record.
Asela Gunaratne’s heroics that won Sri Lanka the series in 2017 is a distant memory though. Sri Lanka cannot have a ‘been there, done that’ attitude considering a lot has changed in the last couple of years.
While Australia have been dominant over periods of time in Tests and ODIs, they have always found it hard to be a top T20I side. It will be vital for them to get their combinations right early on and form a core team. The series against Sri Lanka will be the first step in identifying these players, given that there is less than a year before the commencement of the T20 World Cup.
While Sri Lanka over the years have been in transition across formats, they however will be full of confidence going into the series. The return of players such as Malinga, Kusal Perera, Niroshan Dickwella and Kusal Mendis is a huge boost. They have also found new superstars in the form of Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Avishaka Fernando and Oshada Fernando over the last few months, which has further strengthened the squad.
However, it is their bowlers who have been in impeccable form since 2018, getting wickets at regular intervals and choking the batsmen. Among the top 10 T20I sides, two Sri Lankan bowlers feature in the top five for having the best bowling strike-rates since 2018.
Over the years, we have seen Test cricket kicking off the season in Australia and other countries. However, keeping in mind what is at stake in 2020, T20Is take centre stage, at least for now.
The weather is expected to be a bit cloudy, but there is very less chance of rains hampering play. Given that pacers have had a much better record over spinners in T20s since 2018 at the Adelaide Oval, both Sri Lanka and Australia will look to their fast bowling attacks to deliver in this match, but when it comes to keeping the runs down, the spinners have tasted more success.
Australia skipper Aaron Finch, who suffered a side strain in a Sheffield Shield match has been declared fit to play and will open alongside David Warner. Finch’s absence would have been a huge loss for Australia as his strike-rate of 174.43 at the top since 2018 is among the best in the world among those who have scored at least 150 runs.
Fast bowler Andrew Tye has been ruled out of the T20I series after he injured his right elbow while fielding. He has been replaced in the squad by Sean Abbott, who last played for Australia in 2014.
This series also marks the return of Steve Smith and Warner in the shortest format. They made their international returns in Tests against England and this series will be their first limited-overs assignment after the one-year ban. Warner had a forgettable series scoring just 95 runs from 10 innings and will want to turn things around in this series. Even in T20Is, he averages just a shade over 20 since 2016, but when it comes to T20s, he has a healthy average of 57.19 at a strike-rate of 140.6.
It will be a tight tussle between Ben McDermott and Ashton Turner for a place in the XI. McDermott has been in good form in the Marsh Cup having scored three 50-plus scores in his last four innings. Turner, who despite most recently entering the record books for registering five T20 ducks in a row, is a viable option in the middle-order.
Australia have many bowling options to choose from, including playing a spin-bowling all-rounder in Ashton Agar. Other than playing their regular spinner Adam Zampa, they also have Glenn Maxwell, who can bowl an over or two of off-spin.
Likely XI: Aaron Finch (c), David Warner, Steven Smith, Glenn Maxwell, Ben McDermott, Alex Carey (wk), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Kane Richardson, Billy Stanlake, Adam Zampa
There are no injury concerns in the Sri Lankan camp, who will field a full strength side. Kusal Perera will be back opening the innings, mostly with Kusal Mendis, which will resign Danushka Gunathilaka into the middle-order. Bhanuka Rajapaksa played extremely well at No. 3 against Pakistan, registering scores of 32, 77 and 3. Also, Oshada Fernando hit an unbeaten 78 not out on debut in the final T20I against Pakistan. The duo, who were retained for that series, might make life difficult for the incumbent players to get their spot back in the XI.
Among the bowlers, the Player of the Series in Pakistan, Wanindu Hasaranga will be Sri Lanka’s lead spinner in the match - along with Lakshan Sandakan - who finished with bowling figures of 3 for 21 in the warm-up match against Prime Minister’s XI.
The nucleus of Sri Lanka’s bowling still remains Lasith Malinga, who has one of the best bowling averages since 2018 among the top 10 T20I teams.
Likely XI: Kusal Mendis, Kusal Perera (wk), Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Avishka Fernando, Danushka Gunathilaka, Shehan Jayasuriya, Wanindu Hasaranga, Lakshan Sandakan, Nuwan Pradeep, Lasith Malinga (c), Kasun Rajitha