"We've got 11 to choose from, and all 11 are playing! Brilliant."
No, it wasn't as simple as Indian head coach Rahul Dravid made it sound prior to the second Twenty20 International against Sri Lanka. With a bunch of players in isolation, India’s squad was everyone’s guess till minutes before the game. The visitors somehow managed to form a XI and still gave Sri Lanka a run for their money. The hosts managed to prevail in the final over and levelled the three-match series 1-1. However, a win is a win and Sri Lanka now have a great chance to win the series when they take on a depleted Indian side in the third T20I on Thursday (July 29).
The eleven fit men included five proper batsmen and six proper bowlers. India would have preferred if the numbers had interchanged. While the fans back home wished for Dravid to come out of retirement, thankfully for the Indian side, the eleven fit men included a proper wicketkeeper and did not require their coach to walk out as a substitute and take the added responsibility once more. As it turned out, India ended up playing with 10 men as Navdeep Saini neither batted nor bowled. He even hurt his left shoulder with an awkward fall in the 19th over, probably depleting India’s resources further for the decider with a quick turnaround.
Amid all this, given that India took the game till the last over and made Sri Lanka fight hard despite posting just 132 runs on the board should be heart-warming. They were even ahead on DLS when the rain threatened to interrupt at the beginning of the 19th over of the chase. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, were desperate for a win themselves. In a tour that has rather become a damp squib with each passing day, it is great that the series stands tied, with everything to play for in the third and final T20I. From India's thumping win in the first ODI to now, the sides might have finally become evenly matched.
TIME RUNNING OUT FOR SAMSON?
India were without nine of their regular players - Krunal, Hardik Pandya, Prithvi Shaw, Suryakumar Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Krishnappa Gowtham, Ishan Kishan, Manish Pandey and Deepak Chahar - and six of them were their frontline batsmen. The Men in Blue did add Ishan Porel, Sandeep Warrier, Arshdeep Singh, R Sai Kishore and Simarjeet Singh to their main squad but none of them are handy with the bat. The visitors handed debuts to Devdutt Padikkal, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Chetan Sakariya, and Nitish Rana in the second T20I and the former two actually went on to outshine Sanju Samson.
Gaikwad (18-ball 21) and Padikkal (23-ball 2) looked way more comfortable than Samson (13-ball 7) who couldn't have asked for a better platform to prove his worth. The surface at the R. Premadasa Stadium provides enough assistance to the spinners and Samson looked clueless against Wanindu Hasaranga and Co. during his stay in the middle. India would have liked one of their top-three batsmen to score big but Gaikwad, Dhawan and Padikkal still managed to lay a decent platform. The visitors were 99/3 in 15.3 overs, giving Samson a perfect opportunity to go berserk in the last four overs, but the wicketkeeper-batsman failed once again.
There's been enough written about Samson's inconsistency. The 26-year-old from Kerala has featured in nine T20Is and scored only 117 runs at an average of 13 and a strike rate of 113.59. As of now, his scores read- 19, 6, 8, 2, 23, 15, 10, 27 and 7 respectively. The right-handed batter has already fallen way behind Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan and unless something miraculous happens in the next few months, Samson is not going to be anywhere near India's squad for the upcoming T20 World Cup. It's already too late but Samson would want to score big on Thursday and build from there, once again.
Gaikwad, Dhawan, and Padikkal were slightly cautious with their approach and it's not difficult to understand why they took that route. India will go with the same approach and batting order in the final T20I but could bring in one of Porel, Warrier, Arshdeep, Sai Kishore and Simarjeet if Saini fails to recover. India's bowling looks sorted and formidable and the onus will be on them to make things difficult for Sri Lanka on Thursday.
GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY FOR SRI LANKA
The island nation have won only one of their last 10 T20I series. In T20Is since 2019, no other side has a win percentage as low as them: 24%. Even the next-best, the West Indies, are miles ahead at 41.9%. In between the focus on this being a second-string Indian side or the number of players missing now, Sri Lanka’s lack of resources due to contract issues and bans went under the radar. It did not help when a senior pro and reportedly the highest-paid player till a while back, Dhananjaya de Silva averaged 16 across the three ODIs and scored a 10-ball 9 in the first T20I.
It was relief more than satisfaction when de Silva gently steered the ball – one of many throughout the evening – to short third man to take the winning run. In a chase of 133, a 34-ball 40 was the innings of the match. The hosts were themselves without in-form Bhanuka Rajapaksa and Charith Asalanka and almost ended up messing a simple run chase. However, de Silva batted with great maturity and took Sri Lanka home with two deliveries to spare. However, the credit should actually go to their spinners who restricted India to a below-par total.
The likes of Akila Dananjaya, Hasaranga, Ramesh Mendis, and de Silva didn't allow the Indian middle-order to dictate terms in the second half of the innings. The Sri Lankan spinners actually have better numbers than India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, England, and a couple of other teams in T20Is since 2020. Amongst the top-10 T20I teams, they have the fourth-best average (22.1) and the second-best economy rate (7.4) in this time period. India might not have enough depth in their batting department but Hasaranga and Co. will once again have to be at their absolute best if Sri Lanka want to win their first bilateral series against India.
Sri Lanka: Avishka Fernando, Minod Bhanuka (wk), Dhananjaya de Silva, Sadeera Samarawickrama, Dasun Shanaka (c), Ramesh Mendis, Wanindu Hasaranga, Chamika Karunaratne, Isuru Udana, Akila Dananjaya, Dushmantha Chameera.
India: Shikhar Dhawan (c), Ruturaj Gaikwad, Devdutt Padikkal, Sanju Samson (wk), Nitish Rana, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Kuldeep Yadav, Rahul Chahar, R Sai Kishore/Arshdeep Singh, Chetan Sakariya, Varun Chakravarthy.