Batting average in this series: India 27.1, Sri Lanka, 22.9
These numbers are a mere mirage. The series has been much closer than the batting average of the two sides suggests. Sri Lanka lost the first T20I by only two runs and won the second game in Pune handsomely by 16 runs.
The India-Sri Lanka has been one of the more lop-sided rivalries of late. India hold a win percentage of 73% in Tests, 76.9% in ODIs and 68.2% in T20Is over Sri Lanka since 2015. Yet, the Island nation has found ways of upsetting the Men in Blue, at least in the shortest format. In 2021, they defeated a young India squad 2-1 in the T20I series at home. Now, with a resounding victory in Pune, Sri Lanka are eyeing their first T20I series win on Indian soil, which will also be their first-ever bilateral series win in India in any format.
It will be a massive win for sure given India’s unbeaten streak at home. The Men in Blue last lost a T20I series at home against Australia in 2019 and have been unbeaten in 11 home series since then. Sri Lanka is the last side anyone would have anticipated to break that run. And that is what makes the series-decider in Rajkot a mouth-watering contest.
Things to watch out for
The series has followed an interesting pattern. The top-order of both sides have struggled to produce the goods. India have suffered two top-order lapses, ending their powerplay at 41/2 in Mumbai and 39/4 in Pune. Their top five collectively average 16 at a strike-rate of 115.9. The corresponding numbers for Sri Lanka are 18.6 and 120.8. In Pune, they had three batters scoring in excess of 30 but it required another Dasun Shanaka blitz at the end to get them to a match-winning score.
At the same time, the lower middle-order has stepped up big time for both sides. Thanks to Axar Patel in both games alongside Deepak Hooda and Shivam Mavi once each, India’s number six, seven and eight have struck at 170.3 while averaging 57.3. Sri Lanka have also had multiple heroes in those slots - Dasun Shanaka, Chamika Karunaratne and Wanindu Hasaranga. They have averaged 52 at a strike-rate of 181.3.
Rajkot is expected to offer more batting-friendly conditions and it will be interesting to see if this strange pattern surfaces for the third time in as many games.
Also, India would be wary of Arshdeep Singh’s form. After a layoff due to illness in the first T20I, the left-arm seamer delivered five no-balls in Pune to be smashed around the park for 37 runs in his two overs. In the first 11 games of his young career as yet, he managed a thrifty economy of 7.2 at the death. In the subsequent 11 games, he has splurged at 12.6 runs per over at the death.
For Sri Lanka, Maheesh Theekshana has tapered off in the last few games. Since October 2022, his bowling average has soared up to 26.4 runs per wicket.
Pitch & Conditions
Rajkot’s Saurashtra Cricket Association (SCA) Stadium has known to be a batting paradise but things were a little different during the 2022/23 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (SMAT) which ended in November. The batting average was 24.8, somewhere in the middle of the table among all SMAT venues. Moreover, spinners made merry, picking 42.2% of the total wickets to fall at the venue. Sri Lanka will be at an advantage if that trend follows with two world-class spinners in Theekshana and Hasaranga.
Also, nine of the 15 T20s in Rajkot have been won by the team batting second. Meanwhile, this series has seen the chasing team on the losing side in both games.
- Back of a length troubles Kusal Mendis. In T20Is since 2022, the right-handed batter averages only 16.7 with six dismissals on back of a length deliveries against pacers. Indian pacers, however, have been quite generous to him. They have bowled 43 deliveries to Mendis in this series out of which only nine have been at that troublesome length. Mendis has a false-shot percentage of 55.5 on those nine deliveries.
- India need to find a way to stop the blitzkrieg of Shanaka. The Sri Lankan skipper averages 129 against India at a strike-rate of 198.5 in six innings versus the Men in Blue since 2022.
Shanaka has a shocker of a record against off-spinners. In overall T20Is, the 31-year-old averages only 8 against off-spinners (strike-rate 88.9) with eight dismissals. In this period of Shanaka’s purple patch since 2022, India have bowled all but only two balls of off-spin against him. They had a great opportunity in each of the first two T20Is of this series where Shanaka’s entry point was before the death overs. India had the option of Deepak Hooda which they strangely haven't explored enough. If the pitch indeed has some assistance for the spinners and Shanaka is compelled to bat before the 16th over mark, there is every case for India to bowl Hooda against the Sri Lanka skipper.
As the head coach Rahul Dravid spoke after the Pune game, India are not looking to make changes to the incumbent XI. Unless there are injures, we can see India field the same XI.
Shubman Gill, Ishan Kishan (wk), Rahul Tripathi, Suryakumar Yadav, Hardik Pandya ( c ), Deepak Hooda, Axar Patel, Shivam Mavi, Arshdeep Singh, Umran Malik, Yuzvendra Chahal.
Bhanuka Rajapaksa’s lean patch continued in Pune. Sri Lanka can either replace him with the right-handed batter Sadeera Samarawickrama or continue with the same team.
Pathum Nissanka, Kusal Mendis (wk), Dhananjaya de Silva, Charith Asalanka, Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Dasun Shanaka ( c ), Wanindu Hasaranga, Chamika Karunaratne, Maheesh Theekshana, Lahiru Kumara, Dilshan Madushanka.