India vs Sri Lanka: Every match a talent hunt for ICC World T20

The third and final T20I against Sri Lanka, along with five T20Is in New Zealand later this month, gives players another opportunity to stake their claim for a permanent spot in the team.

Navdeep Saini appeals for Oshada Fernando's wicket during the second T20I against Sri Lanka.   -  AP

Navdeep Saini and a few others in the Indian team are locked in a race against time. With the ICC T20 World Cup set to commence in around nine months, every performance counts if they hope to board the flight to Australia.

Saini entered the T20I squad to take on Sri Lanka with big expectations. The fast bowler had to make the most of the chances afforded by the absence of Mohammed Shami (rested), Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Deepak Chahar (both injured).

Saini made it count in the second T20I on Tuesday with a thoroughly impressive performance. He bowled at a terrific pace and showed great control as well. A pinpoint yorker went past Danushka Gunathilaka before he could bring his bat down. Saini proved that his repertoire was not limited, using an equally quick bouncer to dismiss Bhanuka Rajapaksa. On occasion, he befuddled the batsmen with slower balls. His figures of two for 18 was all the more creditable given that it came on a batting-friendly pitch.

Saini, named the ‘Man of the Match’, received the thumbs up from skipper Virat Kohli. “Navdeep was brilliant. He has come into the ODI circuit as well and is gaining more and more confidence in T20 cricket. You can see that he is letting himself go. When he does that, he can clock the speed that he did. It’s great to see him getting people out with yorkers and bouncers with pace. It’s a really good sign for the team,” Kolhi said at the post-match presentation.

Saini’s partner Shardul Thakur had a good outing too, scalping three wickets in the penultimate over. His triple strike crippled Sri Lanka, which eventually fell well short of a par score. Thakur, who has been in and out of the national side, will hope to get a longer reign to build on this showing.

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Shardul Thakur celebrates the dismissal of Lasith Malinga during the second T20 against Sri Lanka.

 

Spinner Washington Sundar was another bright spot for the home team. He was brought into the attack in the fifth over, and immediately struck gold by taking out the dangerous Avishka Fernando. Picked ahead of Ravindra Jadeja, he restricted the batsmen with flat and accurate deliveries in his one for 29 spell.

All eyes were on Jasprit Bumrah, who was making his comeback from a back stress fracture. Bumrah’s first international match in four months produced a mixed bag. While he did spray it around, Bumrah showcased pace and movement. The Indian team management will be more than willing to give the leader of the attack enough time to ease his way back to peak rhythm.

K. L. Rahul retained his edge over Shikhar Dhawan in the fight for the second opener's spot. Rahul was attacking and free-flowing in his 32-ball 45, while Dhawan made a circumspect 29-ball 32. First down Shreyas Iyer put aside his disappointing run in the West Indies series with a brisk 34. A towering six off Wanindu Hasaranga landed on the stadium roof, evoking appreciation from his partner Kohli.

The third and final T20I at Pune gives the players another opportunity to stake their claim for a permanent spot in the team. The road does not end there, however, as there are five T20Is in New Zealand to come later this month. Every outing counts in the bigger scheme of things.