India vs Sri Lanka: All eyes on K. L. Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan for final T20

Rahul and Dhawan have another opportunity to make a strong case for the second opener's position.

(From left) Shardul Thakur, Virat Kohli and Navdeep Saini at a practice session in Pune on Thursday. - VIVEK BENDRE

Besides Jasprit Bumrah’s return to competitive cricket after four months, the most significant aspect of the three-match T20I series against Sri Lanka is the face-off between K. L. Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan for sealing the second opener’s position.

With Rohit Sharma rested for the series, both Rahul and Dhawan have been presented with an opportunity to make a strong case against a mediocre bowling unit. After the first round was washed out in Guwahati, Rahul had the upper hand during Tuesday’s second T20 in Indore. Come Friday and Dhawan, the stylish left-hander will be keen to level the scores and help India seal yet another series at home with a strong outing at the Maharashtra Cricket Association’s stadium on the outskirts of the education hub.

A long training session

While Rahul preferred to rest instead of joining his team-mates for an optional training session, Dhawan, who understandably looked rusty in his first appearance for India in two months, made optimum use of Thursday’s training at Gahunje. While Rishabh Pant was busy tonking the ball into the adjoining Mumbai-Pune Expressway, Dhawan put his head down and made the best effort to get his timing right. His was perhaps the longest stint in India’s two-and-a-half-hour session.

Also Read | Dhawan under pressure to keep his spot in ODIs

With the countdown to the T20 World Cup in October having switched into the next gear at the turn of the decade, it will be interesting to see if Dhawan can seize the opportunity on a belter of a track in Pune and continue to increase the selectors’ headache.

One-man attack

That Sri Lanka will be without Isuru Udana, the seasoned left-arm pacer who hurt his back in the field in Indore, may turn out to be a blessing in disguise for Dhawan and Co. as it will continue to virtually leave the Sri Lankan bowling attack as a one-man bowling attack, with captain Lasith Malinga barely having any credible support.

Lasith Malinga (right) and Sri Lanka bowling coach David Saker at practice. Photo: Vivek Bendre

 

Udana’s injury will most likely result in Angelo Mathews’ T20 comeback for Sri Lanka after well over 16 months. Captain Malinga and newly-appointed coach Mickey Arthur will be hoping that Mathews can give a fillip to his team-mates, especially in the batting department.

All eyes on Mathews, Perera

The Sri Lankan batsmen, barring Kusal Perera’s exception, looked at sea against India’s attack in Indore. They appeared listless in the second T20, both against the raw pace and variations of the pace triumvirate of Bumrah, Navdeep Saini and Shardul Thakur, and against the quality spin of Kuldeep Yadav and Washington Sundar.

With an injury-plagued bowling attack, Sri Lanka cannot even think of reliving the ghosts of 2016, when it bowled India out for 101 in a T20I at the same venue. If it has to even be competitive on Friday, Mathews and Perera will have to lead a batting revival to deprive India from running away from yet another series win at home.

The teams (from)

India: Virat Kohli (c), Shikhar Dhawan, K.L. Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant (wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Shivam Dube, Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Navdeep Saini, Shardul Thakur, Manish Pandey, Washington Sundar and Sanju Samson.

Sri Lanka: Lasith Malinga (c), Danushka Gunathilaka, Avishka Fernando, Angelo Mathews, Dasun Shanaka, Kusal Perera, Niroshan Dickwella, Dhananjaya de Silva, Isuru Udana, Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Oshada Fernando, Wanindu Hasaranga, Lahiru Kumara, Kusal Mendis, Lakshan Sandakan and Kasun Rajitha.

On-field umpires: Virender Sharma, Nitin Menon.

TV umpire: C. Shamshuddin. Reserve umpire: K. Srinivasan

Match referee: David Boon

Match starts at 7 p.m.