India hopes to carry on treasure hunt in the Island

After a resounding clean sweep against Sri Lanka in the recently concluded 3-Test series, an upbeat team India will aim to carry the winning momentum into the 5-ODI series starting August 20.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni will be back in action when the series gets underway.   -  AFP

After a resounding clean sweep against Sri Lanka in the recently concluded 3-Test series, an upbeat Team India will aim to carry the winning momentum into the 5-ODI series starting August 20. The last these two teams squared off in a limited-overs match was during the Champions Trophy in England where India racked up a mammoth 321 and yet, ended up on the losing side.

Shikhar Dhawan raised a hundred in that match, Rohit Sharma fell short of one and M.S. Dhoni blasted a quickfire 63 off 52 balls. India captain Virat Kohli was out for a five-ball duck and all-round sensation Hardik Pandya failed to reach double figures.

Batsmen

The selectors have reposed faith in India’s power-packed batting, with newly appointed vice-captain Sharma and Dhawan likely to open the innings. Sharma may have struggled to leave a mark in Test whites but will be Kohli’s trump card in ODIs.

The Mumbai batsman made 304 runs from five matches at 76 in this year’s Champions Trophy, second only to fellow opener Dhawan who topped the tally with 338 runs at 67. The Delhi southpaw would hope to continue his good run especially with the return of right-handed batsman K.L. Rahul.

Rahul last played limited-overs cricket for India during the England series in January where he scored a paltry 24 runs from three matches. If Kohli chooses to stick with the left-right batting combination, the Karnataka batsman could remain absent from the playing XI.

Captain Kohli will once again be India's batting lynchpin. The 28-year-old made 258 runs in the Champions Trophy at 129 and later, flattened West Indies having amassed 244 at 81.33. Sri Lanka will have its task cut out against a player, who is showing no signs of relinquishing the tag of top-ranked ODI batsman.

The middle-order will be bolstered with the arrival of M.S. Dhoni, who will be the pivot around which the rest will hope to revolve. That said, the 36-year-old’s big-hitting ability has been on the wane.

In the Champions Trophy, he managed only 67 runs from five matches at 33.50 with only one score of fifty plus. Against West Indies last month, he showed glimpses of his old wizardry with a match-winning 78 but crawled his way to 54 off 114 balls in the next game – the slowest fifty by an Indian in more than a decade – in a match that India eventually lost. His inconsistency with the bat will be a cause of concern for India going into the series.

Ajinkya Rahane was in splendid form in the five-match series against West Indies, scoring 336 runs at 67.20. And with Kohli making it clear that Rahane "is the third opener in the team", the 29-year-old may have to wait his chance.

Meanwhile, Hardik Pandya and Kedar Jadhav will negotiate the middle overs for the team. Pandya has come off age in the past one year, emerging as a potent all-rounder.

His whirlwind 43-ball 76 against Pakistan in the Champions Trophy final was the only silver lining in an otherwise disappointing batting display from the Indians.

And he gave another peek into his bright future during the Pallekele Test where he sped to his maiden Test hundred, making 108 off 96. The blitzkrieg innings spoke to an attacking mindset attuned to the rigours of ODI cricket.

Pandya will find an able ally in attacking middle-order player Kedar Jadhav who has 565 runs from 25 matches at 56.50. Predominantly a batsman who can also bowl offspin, Jadhav provides a semblance of balance to the team.

Adding further meat to the batting is Manish Pandey. The India A Captain was the highest run-scorer in the tri-series in South Africa, having accumulated 307 runs at a strike rate of 85.99.

Axed

Meanwhile, charismatic left-handed batsman Yuvraj Singh faced the axe along with Dinesh Karthik and Rishabh Pant. Singh, who could only muster 23 not out, 22, 4, 14 and 39 in his last five outings, may well have outlived his utility in the abridged format.

However with doubts being cast over Dhoni's place in the side, the exclusion of young Rishabh and Karthik, who scored a fluent 94 against Bangladesh in the Champions Trophy warm-up match, makes for a baffling scenario.

Although M.S. has expressed his desire to play the 2019 cricket world cup, chairman of selectors MSK Prasad gave a hint of things to come when he said, “If Dhoni is not delivering, we will have to look at other alternatives.”

While Pant notching a meagre 107 runs for India A in the recent tri-series in South Africa could have led to the snub, the 20-year-old is one for the future and must be groomed keeping in mind the world cup in England.

Bowlers

Axar Patel, Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal are the three spinners picked in the 15-member squad. With regular spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja being rested, Patel and Chahal have a chance to hog the limelight. Both had successful outings with the India A squad in South Africa, lapping up seven and six wickets at economy rates of 4.11 and 4.37 respectively.

Left-arm wrist-spinner Kuldeep Yadav brings variety to the spin attack, with a mix of variations including the wrong’un. The 22-year-old made his ODI debut against West Indies earlier this year, and has eight scalps from five matches at an economy rate of 4.05.

In the pace department, Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar will trouble opposition batsmen with pace and swing, whereas in Mumbai pace – spearhead Shardul Thakur, India has an aggressive bowler with the ability to swing the ball away from right-handers.

Thakur was in scintillating form during the South Africa A Tri-Series where he took nine wickets at an economy rate of 4.34.

Sri Lanka may not be the same force it once used to be, but with the likes of Upul Tharanga (captain), Angelo Mathews and Niroshan Dickwella in its ranks, the punch-drunk host – no. 8 in ICC ODI rankings - will seek crumbs of comfort against a rampant Indian team.