"This is a second string Indian team and their coming here is an insult to our cricket. I blame the current administration for agreeing to play with them due to television marketing needs."
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. And perhaps Arjuna Ranatunga might have revisited his words before the start of the tour and pondered whether he really should have gone over the top with his lament given his own team's struggles and India's tremendous talent pool.
With several seniors and first-team players warming up for the England tour, an exuberant Indian side beat Sri Lanka 2-1 in the ODI series in their own backyard under Rahul Dravid's guidance. It was an impressive performance from a side that had a good mix of youth and experience. There was flair, flamboyance, guile and steely nerves on display as the series showcased the strength in depth of Indian cricket.
Sri Lanka impressed in patches. Yes, they missed their first-team players who were either injured or out due to suspension. But the final ODI particularly showed that there is talent in their pool. It just needs to be nurtured well. The series also showcased the need for consistency. For India it was all about individuals, having automatically qualified for the 2023 WC by the virtue of being the hosts while for Sri Lanka it was about gaining crucial points in the World Super League and it just got tougher with the loss against the Indians.
We take a look at the key takeaways from the ODI series.
Going to be hard to keep Suryakumar Yadav out of the team
Suryakumar Yadav waited patiently. Knocked on the selectors' door. And then broke it open with the sheer weight of his runs in the domestic arena and the Indian Premier League. And then he started off in style with a six off his first ball international cricket, going on to hit a 31-ball 57 against England in his debut innings in Ahmedabad. Just like the T20Is, he made an impressive start in the ODIs as well.
In the first ODI, he finished off the match along with captain Shikhar Dhawan with a brisk 20-ball 31. And then with the top order back in the hut inside 12 overs, he made a 44-ball 53 to lead India's fightback in the 2nd ODI. In the 3rd ODI too he looked in pristine touch with a 37-ball 40 on a relatively difficult pitch which assisted turn and bounce. In his debut ODI series, he was named the Man of the Series with 124 runs from three innings.
It's his aggression and strokeplay that have stood out. The 30-year-old has been making most of the chances he's been getting in the international arena. He is one of the best players of spin bowling and someone who can keep the momentum going in the middle overs where most teams struggle to get going. He embodies the new-aggressive approach that India is looking to employ in white-ball cricket. Virat Kohli has been impressed with Yadav's start.
With the seniors and first-choice players coming back, it will heat up competition in that top and middle order. There's Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Shreyas Iyer, Virat Kohli, but it will be difficult to keep Yadav out of the team in white-ball formats with the start he's had in international cricket, his flamboyant approach and the consistency he's displayed in the last few years.
Yuzvendra Chahal leads spinners' reply
It's quite rare to see Indian spinners struggle. In the last two years, since the 2019 World Cup, the Indian spin attack was going through a tough phase. It coincided with their premier spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav's dip in form. It led to both the spinners losing their permanent spots in the Indian side. Kuldeep Yadav lost his Test and T20I place while Chahal was no longer the first-choice and was shuttled in and out of the side.
The Sri Lanka series was their shot at redemption. The 'KulCha' pair had complimented each other well and brought out the best in both individuals. The two reunited after two years in Sri Lanka and clicked immediately. While 'KulCha' played the attacking role, Krunal Pandya played a holding and choking one.
The Indian spin attack had found their mojo back. Sri Lanka had got good starts in the Powerplays but the spinners pulled them back in the middle overs and played a crucial role in the series win. Before the Sri Lanka series, since the start of the 2019 World Cup, the Indian spinners had averaged 53.24 in ODIs, second worst after Zimbabwe 65.10. They possessed the worst economy rate of 5.83 after Australia's 5.71. And fourth worst SR of 54.7. The pacers had done better, even on Indian pitches.
In the Sri Lanka series, the spinners bounced back and averaged 31.75. They gave away runs at just 4.88 runs an over. And they struck every 39 balls. A massive improvement.
The spinners build pressure and frustration, especially in the first two ODIs and eventually the Sri Lankan batsmen caved in. Chahal and Kuldeep varied their pace and their varieties to keep the batsmen guessing. Even Rahul Chahar on his debut in the 3rd ODI. Chahal seemed to be getting back to his best and it was vital given he is battling for a spot for the T20 World Cup later this year. He finished as the highest wicket-taker in the series with five wickets from two matches at an average of 20.40 and with an economy rate of 5.10.
This series was crucial for Kuldeep's confidence as well after a long lean spell in the team and on the sidelines. He was decent but will need to do something special in the T20Is if indeed he gets a chance (which looks difficult) and the remainder of the IPL (if indeed he gets a chance) to make his case for T20 World Cup.
India's powerplay problems with the ball
While the spinners aced the middle overs, India's powerplay problems continued. In the last one-and-half years (Since 1 Jan 2020), India have had the worst average, economy and Strike rate in the first 10 overs of the ODIs - 113.8, 6.1, 112.5. They have struggled to get wickets at the start. In the SL series, the trend continued. In the first ODI, they picked up just one wicket in the Powerplay giving away 55 runs, while in the 2nd ODI, they went wicketless, conceding 59 in the first 10 overs and in the third, they again scalped one wicket for 55 runs.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Deepak Chahar bowled well in patches in the first two ODIs but they lacked incision at the start and were perhaps a little bit unlucky as well with edges beaten, flying wide and an odd catch dropped. Chahar could have had Bhanuka in the second over in 2nd ODI but Manish Pandey dropped a low catch in slips. The boundary percentage was also high with 59 percent of Powerplay runs coming in boundaries. Against stronger teams it could hurt with spinners too trying to find their feet following their struggles. The bowlers, especially the new-ball ones, will need to step up and get those early wickets to peg the opposition back right from the start.
Sri Lankan batsmen in a state of inertia
After their struggles in England, Sri Lankan batsmen put up an improved performance with the bat. Their Powerplay scores in England ODIs read - 47/3, 47/4 and 45/5. They could garner just one 200-plus score in the three ODIs. The conditions in Sri Lanka were much better than in England. And the batsmen did get off to decent starts with 55/1, 59/0, 55/1 in the powerplays. However, they couldn't pace their innings to perfection.
They could have scored much more in the first 10 overs and beyond. The batsmen lost their way in the middle and then again tried to make up for it at the death, especially in the first two ODIs. They couldn't inject momentum into their innings consistently. It was boundary or nothing. There were too many dot balls. Less rotation of strike. In the first ODI, they played out 158 dot balls, in the second, there were 144 balls off which they didn't score a run.
It built up pressure and frustration and the batsmen perished in trying to up the ante in the middle overs with rash shots. They managed to score just 4.36 runs and over from 11-40 overs in 1st ODI, while only 4.53 in the 2nd ODI and lost five and six wickets respectively in the first and second ODIs. Which meant that they could post only sub-par totals of 262 and 275. The series was lost there. It seemed evident that they were missing their first-choice batsmen.
They however put in a much better batting performance in the final ODI. The dot balls came down to 127 but they did stutter at the end before clinching the win. Their dot ball percentage in the series was 55.42. Before the 3rd ODI, their dot ball percentage stood at 50.53 percent since the 2019 World Cup. Playing out half the overs of dot balls can hurt on any given day. They will have to re-calibrate their approach going forward as sub-par scores on decent pitches won't suffice.
Missed opportunity for Indian batsmen
Thirties, forties and fifties - these were scoring patterns of most of the Indian batsmen in the series. Surprisingly, in a subcontinent series, no batsmen from either side managed to hit a century. The highest score in the series was Shikhar Dhawan's 86 not out and he came the closest to hitting a ton but ran out of time in the first ODI. It was a chance for the youngsters to showcase their mettle and temperament with some big innings in the series. Yes, they sparkled with their strokeplay and aggression but they would have loved to have a three-figure score under their belt. The series rolled out decent pitches in all three matches, perhaps the third match track was a bit more challenging.
The demands in ODIs are different from the T20s. In the final match, Indians needed someone to play that anchor role and carry their bat through till the end. It didn't happen and they got bundled out for 225. Shaw scored a brisk couple of the 40s (43 and 49), Ishan Kishan scored 59 in his debut innings, Suryakumar had scores of 31 not out, 53 and 40. Sanju Samson threw it away at 46 in his debut ODI innings.
It was also a chance for Manish Pandey, who has been standing on thin ice, to bat big and set in motion his start-stop career. He got starts (26, 37, 11) but couldn't carry on. There was a case of lack of chances hurting him. He however got all three matches to prove himself in the ODI series. Yes, he was unlucky in the second match with the run-out at the non-striker's end with the ball flicking the fingertips of the bowler onto the stumps via a Suryakumar Yadav straight drive at the other end. He was batting well on 37. But he had the opportunity to prove his worth in the rest two and didn't deliver.
Even Dhawan, apart from that 86 not out, had scores of 13 and 29. He would have liked to make his stronger, amidst competition, for the T20 WC with strong performances in these matches.
Yes, it's a learning curve for the youngsters and newcomers but these players have done it in the past in domestic cricket, they have scored 150s and 200s in List A cricket. When they look back, they will feel it was a case of missed opportunities on this tour.