Against the expectations, the ODI leg of the white-ball series between India and Sri Lanka turned out to be close, with two games delivering edge-of-the-seat thrillers. Now comes the much-awaited T20Is, and for India, it will have great significance as it will be their final series before the WT20.
Golden chance for Dhawan to put himself into contention for WT20
One of the spots in the Indian T20I team that is up for grabs is the opening position. While Rohit Sharma is a definite starter for the T20 World Cup, his partner can be anyone ranging from KL Rahul to Ishan Kishan to Shikhar Dhawan to Prithvi Shaw or even Virat Kohli, who opened the batting for India in the England T20Is. Rahul's recent failures in T20Is have given hope to all the other openers in the country.
Now, Dhawan wouldn't get a better opportunity to put himself back into contention after being unimpressive in his solitary outing against England, when he got rushed by high-end pace and struggled to 4 off 12. The southpaw has been in red-hot form and was the highest run-getter in this year's IPL with 380 runs at 54.29 and a healthy strike rate of 134.28, while he had hammered 618 runs in IPL 2020 at a SR of 144.73.
His lack of intent was a major headache once, but that has improved as he has striking at 130.4 in the powerplay overs since the 2020 edition of the IPL. While in the middle-overs, this figure increases to 146.5, which is far better than KL Rahul. The only thing he needs right now is to replicate his IPL run, and the seasoned campaigner will be in line to open in WT20, especially with the entry of Rishabh Pant in the line-up, which doesn't make Rahul a necessity in the side any longer.
Chance for Samson and Kishan to leave a mark in the middle-order
There are still two slots in India's middle-order which are up for grabs. The Delhi Capitals duo of Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant featured for India in the T20Is against England, but they haven't locked their slots yet. With Rishabh Pant, the gloveman didn't make most of the T20Is against England, and he has also struggled in IPL since 2020, striking at merely 119.9. For Iyer, he's a one-dimensional player, and while he did well for India in lower-middle-order against England, it's too big an ask for him to sustain the role, given he's a slow starter and has his issues against high-end pace.
Now, that effectively means that both Kishan and Samson can stake their claims in India's middle-order. And unlike the ODIs against Sri Lanka, where both couldn't play together, in the T20I format, Pandey is unlikely to retain his place, and it will help India assess how these two aggressive batters fare. Both bring a certain X-factor with themselves and are outright match-winners on their day. Kishan had, in fact, nailed the middle-order role for Mumbai Indians in IPL 2020, where he was a revelation in the middle-overs, and if he can replicate a similar role in India's jersey, it would be hard to ignore him. He had averaged 54.6 and had a remarkable strike rate of 140.7 in middle-overs of the IPL 2020 in the UAE, where this year's WT20 will also be staged.
For Samson, it won't be wrong to say that he came off age in the second half of the curtailed IPL, this year, when he batted with a lot of maturity and composure and was finishing games while leading his franchise Rajasthan Royals. Overall, he had smashed 277 runs at 46.17 with a strike rate of 145.79, which was phenomenal. His newly found maturity even reflected in his ODI debut against the Lankans. Since both Kishan and Samson are keepers, they can don the gloves should they get in the side ahead of Rahul or Pant.
Chance for Rahul Chahar to consolidate his position
Well, Rahul Chahar played a solitary game in the ODI series against Sri Lanka, but he was comfortably the most threatening spinner for India, with him proving his mettle even in the 50-overs format. His late wickets in the final ODI gave India a glimmer of hope and left behind a solid impression. But most importantly, his variations - the top-spinner, the googly, his leg-breaks, the flight, the deception, the set-ups - reflected a spinner who not only knew well enough about his game but had the belief to win a game from any given position. This self-belief stood-out.
He has already piped Yuzvendra Chahal in T20 internationals and was preferred over him against England in the latter half of the series. But it was in this year's IPL that Chahar peaked and showcased his true magic with the white-cherry, winning his side games of cricket and symbolizing the confidence needed to rule international cricket, which was on display in the third ODI. He had scalped 11 wickets in seven IPL games while Chahal could merely pick four wickets in seven games in this year's IPL. The RCB spinner has seemingly lost his venom and even while he was amongst the wickets against Sri Lanka, he was far away from his best.
Now, that Rahul Chahar is likely to start in the series against Sri Lanka, it will provide him with a further chance to strengthen his spot in the XI and make the leg-spinner's position his own for the T20 World Cup.
Time for Varun Chakravarthy to unleash his mystery
One thing that's well established by now is that India are struggling for quality spinners and are in dire need of necessary interventions. While Chahar has the potential to be the team's lead spinner, who partners him remains a quandary. Washington Sundar has been ineffective for some time now. Kuldeep Yadav and Krishnappa Gowtham were also unimpressive in the recently-concluded ODIs against Sri Lanka. While Krunal Pandya adds batting depth, his bowling has been below-par. But, with Hardik Pandya starting to bowl again, India can afford to go with a specialist second spinner.
Sri Lanka will soon become the ground for the unravelling of India's Varun Chakravarthy Vinod. What makes him a stand-out spinner? The fact that the 29-year-old possesses seven variations — leg-spin, off-spin, arm ball, googly, carrom ball, the flipper and the top spinner. But with Varun, it would be an understatement to just shrug him off as a mystery spinner - it's the temperament and wits that turn him into a special player. And of course, the versatility to nail different phases of the game.
He has proven himself to be effective be it the powerplay overs, the middle-phase and the death overs and is a complete package. Since the start of IPL 2020, he has had an ER of 7.21 and strikes every 16.8 deliveries in the PP phase, while his ER goes down to 6.95 in the 7-15 overs period with a SR of 21. He has fared well in the death challenge too, maintaining an economy of 8.5 runs per over. His uniqueness makes him a must for the WT20 and this series can mark the beginning of something that can prove to be unforgettable in times to come.