Spin is Sri Lanka’s best bet against India’s IPL superstars

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The hosts have lost all but one of their last 13 completed T20Is

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After snatching rare ODI Super league points against what was arguably a third-string India side, Sri Lanka will now have to deal with some of the best IPL players in this T20I series. And they might have to do so without the top scorer and top wicket-taker in the LPL – Danushka Gunathilaka (suspended for bio-bubble breach while on tour in England) and Wanindu Hasaranga (recovering from injury). Sri Lanka’s recent form is also stacked against them: they have lost all but one of their last 13 (completed) T20Is. That solitary victory came against West Indies, the reigning world T20 champions, on a sluggish surface in Antigua, where their spinners clicked in unison.On Friday, too, it was the spinners who fashioned Sri Lanka’s victory and although India are better than West Indies in dealing with slower bowlers, spin could be Sri Lanka’s best bet on a potentially helpful Khettarama track. Akila Dananjaya, playing his first ODI of the series, posed a threat by turning the ball both ways while rookie left-arm fingerspinner Praveen Jayawickrama tricked batters with subtle changes in pace.

Sri Lanka, by the way, haven’t qualified for the T20 World Cup main draw yet. They need a top-two finish in the first round – where they are grouped alongside Ireland, Netherlands and Namibia – to enter the Super 12 stages. As for India, they are bona-fide contenders for the title along with West Indies and England. This series will be the last chance for them to fine-tune their plans before the tournament.

Can Varun Chakravarthy prove his fitness and emerge as the point of difference in India’s attack? Yuzvendra Chahal or Rahul Chahar: who will be India’s first-choice legspinner for the World Cup? Can Prithvi Shaw keep going and stake his claim for a more permanent role at the top in white-ball internationals? Chetan Sakariya or T Natarajan(injured and hence not on this tour)? These are some of the questions facing the Indian management in the lead-up to the T20 World Cup, which will be held in the UAE and Oman from October 17 to November 14.

Form guide

Sri Lanka LLLLW (Last five completed T20Is, most recent first)
India WWLWL

6:26

Chopra: Make or break series for Chakravarthy

In the spotlight

Chamika Karunaratne has often done the tough job for Sri Lanka this white-ball series – finish the innings with the bat and take up bowling when the side needs a breakthrough – and he has done it with gusto. The 25-year old has a variety of attractive shots in his locker, including the helicopter, and there are shades of Dhammika Prasad in his bowling, especially when he pounds the deck. He could also make his T20I debut on Sunday.

Over the years, Sri Lanka have had many mystery spinners who have bamboozled oppositions – remember Ajantha Mendis and Sachithra Senanayake? – and now India have one of their own in Varun Chakravarthy. Chakravarthy can bowl in the powerplay, in the middle overs, and also in the slog, which is why the team management is giving him another crack at international cricket, despite having failed two fitness tests in the past.

Team news

Kasun Rajitha has been ruled out with injury while Hasaranga is likely to return to the team despite the short turnaround. If Hasaranga is fit, Jayawickrama will have to wait for his T20I debut. Sri Lanka might also consider bringing back Isuru Udana, who is more of a T20 specialist.

Sri Lanka (probable): 1 Avishka Fernando, 2 Minod Bhanuka (wk), 3 Bhanuka Rajapaksa, 4 Dhananjaya de Silva, 5 Charith Asalanka, 6 Dasun Shanaka (capt), 7 Chamika Karunaratne, 8 Wanindu Hasaranga/Praveen Jayawickrama, 9 Isuru Udana, 10 Dushmantha Chameera, 11 Akila Dananjaya

Chakravarthy, Ruturaj Gaikwad and Devdutt Padikkal were the only three players from India’s squad who didn’t get a game in the preceding ODI series. While there are no real vacancies in the batting line-up, Chakravarthy could potentially make his first international appearance. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Deepak Chahar are likely to slot back into the XI, having been rested among six changes on Friday.

India (probable): 1 Prithvi Shaw, 2 Shikhar Dhawan (capt), 3 Ishan Kishan (wk), 4 Sanju Samson, 5 Suryakumar Yadav, 6 Hardik Pandya, 7 Krunal Pandya/K Gowtham, 8 Deepak Chahar, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Varun Chakravarthy, 11 Yuzvendra Chahal/Rahul Chahar

Pitch and conditions

The Khettarama pitch could take turn as it had done during the ODIs. The overhead conditions might be cloudy, with chances of rain on Sunday evening too.

Stats and trivia

  • Three batters had scored more runs than Shaw’s 308 in the first half of IPL 2021 but nobody in the top 20 had a greater strike rate than his 166.48.
  • Sri Lanka last won a bilateral T20I series in 2019, when a second-string side toured Pakistan and surprised them. They’ve lost each of their next five rubbers since.
  • India have won 13 of the 19 T20Is they have played against Sri Lanka.

Quotes

“I did change a few little things between the England series and this one. I had an issue with my front leg going to the off side too much. So I corrected that in training, and then because of that I was able to get back in the runs.”
Sri Lanka opening batter Avishka Fernando

“After I came to Mumbai Indians in 2018, things started changing a bit. I got to know what my responsibility is, how do I go about my game, how can I take it one step ahead.”
India middle-order batter Suryakumar Yadav

Deivarayan Muthu is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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