Sri Lanka were forced to dig deep to claim their first win over India in home soil in 9 years, so it’s only fair that SportsCafe, too, digs deep and brings back a long-gone article. It’s been almost a year, but today Winners and Losers makes a special comeback to lighten up your day.
There were 30 Super League points at stake for Sri Lanka in the three-match ODI series, but, really, for the most part, they did not play for points - they played merely to restore lost pride. And by the time Ramesh Mendis swept Rahul Chahar to secure victory in the third and final ODI, the Dasun Shanaka-led Lankan side had achieved its objective. Mickey Arthur was all smiles and so were the fans, who simply did not foresee the three-match series dishing out two extremely tight affairs. The three matches might be inconsequential in the larger scheme of things - well for India, at least - but there were certainly interesting sub-plots that unfolded over the course of the past week that could very well prove to be pivotal for the careers of individuals.
There was incessant talk - both before the series and after the win in the first ODI - of how this series could prove to be Rahul Dravid’s ‘audition’ for a future gig as the head coach but those talks have died down following the team’s showing in the final two ODIs. Does defeat in the third game and near-defeat in the second make Dravid a bad coach? Absolutely not. But it showed that being a head coach of a national team is a job not so straightforward, no matter how talented a bunch you might have at your disposal. And over the years, handling the team well is something Ravi Shastri - the incumbent - has never got due credit for.
Certainly, it seemed across the three ODIs that batsmen lacked role clarity, which eventually resulted in collapses. Dravid, of course, could not have done too much, having been with the team for just over a couple of weeks, but the lack of a clear gameplan - with both bat and ball - was evident across the three games.
Dravid might very well take over the reins one day, but shoddy showings like the one on Friday certainly puts into perspective the fine job Shastri has done in turning the senior side into a well-oiled unit.
Sri Lanka have roughly had the same number of captains and wins in ODI cricket in the past five years, but this one, Dasun Shanaka, might just end up outliving a vast majority of his predecessors. The bar is, of course, embarrassingly low, but keep in mind a dismal showing across the three ODIs could very well have seen Shanaka become a ‘former captain’ in a week’s time.
‘3-0 to India’, ‘India to score 500’, ‘Shaw to score 200’ were some of the ‘bold predictions’ that were thrown about prior to the series but Shanaka ensured that a lot of overconfident Indian fans ate humble pie at the end of the third ODI. At no point did Sri Lanka’s shoulders drop in the series, and they went from strength to strength with every passing game. They did save their best for the last (although it was a ‘weaker’ second-string side) but, most impressively, there were improvements on individual and tactical fronts game after game. No two mistakes made were the same and, at least to the naked eye, it felt like the players were more than happy to rally around their new leader.
As if spending time in England bowling to Kohli, Rohit and Pujara wasn’t dreamy enough, Prasidh Krishna’s 2021 got even better on Friday as he consolidated his spot in the ODI squad despite being 9,000 miles away from the action. Prasidh snatched the ‘enforcer’ tag from Navdeep Saini against England four months ago, and Saini’s showing in the ODIs has all but ensured that the Karnataka lad will keep it for the considerable future.
Not only did Saini only play a solitary ODI in the series - the one in which five first-picks were rested - he also just bowled a grand total of five overs, returning figures of 0/27. His pace did not trouble the Lankan batsmen, nor did his lines and lengths, which were erratic. Debutant Chetan Sakariya bowling 3 more overs than him on a wicket that had no swing or seam on offer spoke volumes of the skipper’s trust in Saini.
What’s next for Saini remains to be seen, but if you’re Prasidh, then, well, it’s time to rejoice.
Manish Pandey has only himself to blame if he ends up not playing for India ever again. As the second-most experienced batsman, and the only anchor in a team full of explosive dynamites, this was Pandey’s chance to show the world that he’s been unlucky, not undeserving. Across all three matches, he walked in to bat in tailor-made situations, and he also batted at his beloved No.4 position. Yet here he is, with scores of 26, 37 and 11 - granted he was unlucky with the run out in the second ODI - once again having squandered an opportunity to make a case for selection.
With Suryakumar Yadav and Sanju Samson - younger and more dynamic batters - having done what they did, and with Pant, Rahul and Iyer already out there as first-team picks, the prospect of Pandey getting another shot in ODI cricket seems far-fetched. Maybe the ton at the SCG is destined to be the only highlight of his start-and-stop international career.
Dhananjaya de Silva
Dhananjaya de Silva entered the three-match ODI series as the most experienced batsman in the Sri Lankan line-up, yet he flummoxingly turned out to be the most disappointing of the lot. That he averaged 16.00 and struck at 59.25 makes for sorrow reading itself, but these figures become unacceptable considering the fact that de Silva, across all three matches, walked into bat on the back of a fine platform laid by the openers. For someone who is an excellent player of spin - as he’s shown in Test cricket - how de Silva handled the slower bowlers was flabbergasting.
With select seniors most likely set to return to the side - let alone the banned trio - and with every other batter in the Top 8 either showing promise or putting their hand up with impressive showings, the triple failure could have grave consequences for de Silva’s ODI career. Not that his overall record - 1112 runs at an average of 26.47 and SR 77.00 - warrants a longer rope, either.
So much has transpired over the past six months that no one really seems to remember the fact of Mayank Agarwal being team India’s first-choice back-up opener in ODI cricket not too long ago. Mayank featured in five of the six ODIs India played against New Zealand and Australia in 2020, and his outrageous recent List A showings, many believed, warranted him a good run up top, to possibly make a case for being a back-up opener for the 2023 World Cup.
But now, 7 months into 2021, it is hard to see Mayank getting a gig in ODI cricket anytime soon. Particularly with both Prithvi Shaw and Ishan Kishan showing the world the kind of impact they could have at the top of the order. It is worth noting that, despite Mayank’s stellar List A record, both Shaw and Kishan are younger, and it is a factor that works in the duo’s favor for the management, of late, have shown an inclination towards blooding-in youth.
With an ODI debut for Devdutt Padikkal all but inevitable as well, it wouldn’t be a surprise if its already curtains for Mayank Agarwal’s ODI career.