India are playing three One-Day Internationals, starting Sunday (July 18), and as many Twenty20 Internationals against Sri Lanka in July and these six encounters are the only white-ball games they are going to play ahead of this year's T20 World Cup. Some of the all-format players, including skipper Virat Kohli and his deputy Rohit Sharma, are currently in England and it will be Shikhar Dhawan who will be leading a completely different Indian unit in the island nation.
Everyone involved in this series has something to prove. However, this is by no means a "second-string" squad. 14 of these 20 men have already played international cricket and most of them will walk into the T20 World Cup squad. So, here are some of the players who are almost certain to get the green light for the showpiece event in the United Arab Emirates.
It took them some time, but India have finally started to realise the importance and calibre of this right-handed batsman from Mumbai. Suryakumar has been around for quite some time now but has transformed himself into a different T20 beast since 2018. The flamboyant batsman made his much-awaited India debut earlier this year against England and smashed a stroke-filled 57 and 32 in his first two innings. Suryakumar has been Mumbai Indians' most consistent batsman in the last three-four years and has managed to break into India's top-order despite a lot of competition.
Virat Kohli (135.7), Shikhar Dhawan (134.6), Rohit Sharma (136.3) and KL Rahul (140.9) are all proven white-ball players, but none of them have a better strike rate than Suryakumar (147) in T20s since 2018. What really differentiates Suryakumar from the other four is his strike rate in the first 10 deliveries. Suryakumar strikes at almost 142 from the word go, while the aforementioned four are slow starters. Suryakumar thrives on the mantra of "no pressure, no fun" and the 30-year-old would be eager to do well in the forthcoming series and confirm his spot in India's star-studded top-order.
Let's get one thing straight, it doesn't matter if he bowls or not, Pandya is one of the first few players you would pick in your starting XI for the T20 World Cup. The all-rounder from Baroda is one of the cleanest strikers in world cricket at the moment and could prove to be India's biggest x-factor. If Suryakumar has been MI's most consistent batsman of late, Pandya has been one of the biggest game-changers for the franchise. Amongst Indian batsmen who have scored at least 500 runs in T20s since 2019, no other batter has a better strike-rate than Pandya (169). The next best is Ravindra Jadeja (152.8).
Pandya is a fearsome striker but has struggled with his fitness of late, which has affected his bowling. Since 2020, the all-rounder has bowled only 30 overs in six ODIs and 29 T20s. And, the right-arm seamer hasn't bowled a single over in the last two editions of the IPL. "I want to make sure that I will be able to bowl in all the games at the T20 World Cup," Pandya had told TOI Sportscast. The Sri Lanka series will provide him a perfect platform to return back to bowling but the team management will have to be slightly careful with his workload. After all, a fully-fit Pandya will make things a lot easier for India in the World Cup.
The legspinner is not far away from becoming India's frontline spinner in the shortest format of the game. Chahar will have stiff competition from the likes of Yuzvendra Chahal, Varun Chakravarthy and Kuldeep Yadav in the coming months, but the former has been more consistent than the latter three in the last few years. In T20s since 2019, the legspinner has a better average and strike-rate than Chahal, Chakravarthy and Kuldeep. On top of that, Chahar is clearly a way better fielder than those three.
The 21-year-old was having a pretty good IPL 2021 before the tournament was suspended. The legspinner took 11 wickets in seven games at an economy of 7.21 and a strike-rate of 15.2. Only Harshal Patel (17), Chris Morris (14) and Avesh Khan (14) had more wickets than Chahar. He has featured in three T20Is and was also preferred over Chahal in the last two T20Is of the five-match series against England in March. The next couple of months are going to be crucial for Chahar but the young legspinner is not someone who would shy away from a challenge.
India's vice-captain for the tour of Sri Lanka, Bhuvneshwar has endured a spate of injuries in the last few years. The right-arm seamer suffered a thigh muscle injury during last year's IPL which ruled him out of the league as well as the tour of Australia. The bowler made a return to the national squad after a long injury lay-off in the limited-overs home series against England in March. Bhuvneshwar was impressive in both the T20I and ODI series. He took four wickets in five T20Is at an economy of just 6.38 and then claimed six scalps in the three ODIs.
There are no question marks over his place in the Indian side, but it will all boil down to his fitness. Bhuvneshwar is still a very reliable T20 bowler. He can take wickets with the new ball and then come back later to bowl those yorkers and change-up deliveries at the backend of the innings. Just like Pandya, Bhuvneshwar is a match-winner and India would want him to be fully fit ahead of the mega event.
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