After a crushing victory in Ranchi, India will have momentum on their side when they aim to claim a Twenty20 series win over Sri Lanka in Sunday’s decider in Visakhapatnam. India won by a massive 69 runs on Friday to level the series and swiftly return the feel-good factor surrounding their prospects heading toward two big T20 events.
An opening defeat in the series had dampened the optimism following a first-ever clean sweep in Australia. But the performance of Mahendra Singh’s Dhoni men in Ranchi again suggested that India have reason for confidence ahead of the the Asia Cup and World T20 over the coming two months.
With a score of 196, India notched up their sixth-highest total in Twenty20 internationals, made all the more impressive by the fact that it was achieved without the rested Virat Kohli. Led by a first ever half-century in the format for Shikhar Dhawan, there were healthy contributions from all the top-six batsmen, including 22-year-old Hardik Pandya, who showed he could now be the big-hitter India need in the middle order.
The bowling excelled, too. Spinner Ravichandran Ashwin collected three wickets for just 14 runs, Ashish Nehra added another couple, as did Jasprit Bumrah late on to continue his impressive introduction to international cricket. The only disappointment was Yuvraj Singh, who, coming in down at No. 7 in the batting order, went for a duck. With Yuvraj having to wait until the 18th over to get a bat, Dhoni has suggested he could look to alter his batting order to give everyone more time at the crease.
“In the coming games we would like to give every player some kind of batting, so going into the T20 World Cup everyone has got some king of exposure when it comes to batting,” he said after Friday’s victory. “Everybody will get a chance to bowl, a lot of times you can experiment with the bowling, but what happens with the batting is you want to win games and at the same time you want to give individuals a fair amount of time in the middle. Definitely in the coming games if there a chance of exposing somebody to this kind of an opportunity we would love to do that, so that by the start of the T20 World Cup everybody looks good.”
By the end, India could bask in the glory of their third-largest victory in cricket’s shortest format, while Sri Lanka were left with much to ponder. Both openers again failed to reach double figures, even with the return of veteran Tillakaratne Dilshan. And the inexperienced seam bowlers, who impressed on a green pitch in the opening match in Pune, came back down to earth in the dryer conditions in Ranchi, which are likely to be the norm over the coming weeks. The only bright spot was a hat-trick, just the fourth in the history of Twenty20 internationals, by Thisara Perera.
Although Sri Lanka, the World T20 champions in 2014 and runners-up two years earlier, can point to the continued absence of key experienced players Angelo Mathews and Lasith Malinga, there remains much to address if they are to retain their title in India in April.
India and Sri Lanka will also face off in the Asia Cup, which gets underway on Feb. 24, before the start of the World Twenty20 two weeks later.
Match time: Sunday, 9 a.m. EST
TV channel: Willow TV