DHARAMSALA, Saturday - A 9-0 clean sweep by a familiar rival at home is a record that will hurt anyone for a long time. Same with Sri Lanka, who were defeated in Tests, ODIs and T20s by India in August-September.
Two months down the line, the story hasn’t changed much. India beat Sri Lanka 1-0 in Tests at home and now starts the three-ODI series, beginning on Sunday, as favourites.
The visitors have appointed Thisara Perera as the new captain in a side that sees the return of several senior players.
“We have a couple of players who have come back from injury. It is a balanced side at the moment. Hopefully we can do something special,” Perera said at the pre-match press conference on Saturday.
Sri Lanka have included nine new players in the ODI side who were not part of the Test series. The most prominent among them are batsmen Kusal Perera, all-rounder Asela Gunaratne and fast bowler Nuwan Pradeep.
Perera is happy he will have an extra bowling option in Angelo Mathews. “He is bowling for this series. He didn’t bowl in the Tests. He is prepared for ODIs and T20s. That gives us an ability to balance the side. Hopefully, he can do something special for us,” Perera said.
He added that players were now fine after facing some breathing problem in New Delhi during the third Test at Feroz Shah Kotla ground.
“I didn’t take part in the Test series. Some guys were struggling with breathing. Now everything is fine. All are under control. Here the weather is good,” he said.
“We have prepared well. We had two good sessions over the last two days. We have a nice balance in the side. Mentally and fitness-wise we have done well at the moment.”
DHANANJAYA OUT, LAKMAL FIT
However, fast bowler Suranga Lakmal is fit for the first ODI. He too had to be taken off the field while bowling during the Kotla Test after some pollution related complications.
Meanwhile India will take on familiar rivals Sri Lanka under a new captain Rohit Sharma who will lead the side in the absence of super star Virat Kohli who has been rested for the seriesw.
It will be the opener’s maiden stint as India ODI captain against an opposition who are looking for redemption. They too have a new ODI skipper in Thisara Perera, who has the responsibility of inspiring a team that has not won any ODI series in 2017. The hosts start favourites after clean-sweeping Sri Lanka in an away ODI series a couple of months back. Kohli led the team in that contest and if the current side needs some extra push in his absence, the fact that India has a chance to end the year as No. 1 with a 3-0 series triumph will suffice.
However, the hosts face some issues. Shikhar Dhawan was down with viral fever and missed Friday’s net session. On Saturday too he joined the net session late, and saw the likes Ajinkya Rahane, Manish Pandey, Shreyas Iyer going through the paces first.
He, though, had an extended nets session later. Jadhav also had a heavily strapped left thigh and was taken off from practice on Friday. On Saturday, Jadhav was replaced by all-rounder Washington Sundar. Jadhav is suffering from hamstring injury. The 18-year-old Sundar recently got his maiden national call-up for the upcoming T20 series against Sri Lanka.
Even if India miss out on the two players, the hosts would still be in an advantageous position. Bench strength has been one area where Indian team has made rapid progress in recent times.
The smooth transgression of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal into becoming India’s prime limited overs spinning option only validates the fact. Young batting talent – Shreyas Iyer, who has so far played three T20s for India, could be seen spending some extra time at nets on Saturday and he may get his debut.
With Jadhav absent, he will be expected to be part of a middle-order that would have Manish Pandey and Dinesh Karthik.