India’s loss in the T20 series against Sri Lanka was an expected occurrence once the visitors lost a major chunk of players to COVID-19.
But the result aside the tour has been a complete washout if you are an Indian cricket watcher, because the major talents who were expected to light up the Sri Lankan stadium came a cropper.
Many Indian sides have gone to Sri Lanka since 1985 and a major part of the late 1990s with some of the biggest names in cricket history, but just could not adjust to the conditions in Colombo. Something similar happened with this group of young players who handed Sri Lanka a win in a bilateral series in any format for the first time in 13 years.
Apart from the first ODI when India was dominant from the word go, there was just no sign of any superiority from the visiting line-up, famously labelled IPL All Star XI by Sri Lanka’s coach Mickey Arthur.
After the mauling they received in the first ODI, Sri Lanka made a strong return in the rest of the games, in fact bested India in most scenarios, but only narrowly lost the second 50-over contest. That loss also happened because of a rare late-order resurgence by Deepak Chahar and Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
If that had not happened, India would have struggled to even claim the ODI series.
Samson, Rana and Pandey Squander Chances
Suryakumar Yadav and Prithvi Shaw showed flashes of brilliance in the ODIs and hence they will shortly be on a flight to England for the Test series. But the rest of the line-up simply did not show up. The disappointing aspects of the ODI series were the returns of Sanju Samson, Manish Pandey and Nitish Rana. We will come back to Samson, but first let us tackle Pandey who had been earmarked for his ODI performances as a possible back-up in 50-over contests. However, Pandey simply did not step up.
He missed many an opportunity during the series with his diffident approach. It looks very likely that Pandey may find it difficult to make it back into the sanctum sanctorum of the Indian ODI dressing room any time soon. The good news for Pandey however, is that there is likely to be no further ODI cricket in 2021 and there may be no further action in the 50-over format till next year.
Now, coming to Samson and Rana. Both had golden opportunities in both the 50-over and 20-over formats, but blew it completely. Samson is the most frustrating player to watch. He has all the time in the world, all the talent that a player should have and more, but he somehow manages to self-destruct at all times. He shows flashes of brilliance in every IPL and then just disappears out of sight. To borrow a parlance from the ongoing Olympics, Samson took early lead when the race began, but quickly fell behind in a quest to be in the T20 World Cup squad. Samson has made it difficult for himself clearly.
Rana on the other hand looked woefully short of class to play at this level. Rana came a cropper against spin and just did not seem to have a plan.
Two other young batsmen, Ruturaj Gaikwad and Devdutt Padikkal did themselves no favours by not making most of the opportunities that came their way in the T20Is. They should have done a lot more, but then the slow pitches were a test and it would be too cruel to certify on the basis of that.
Ishan Kishan again showed that he had the class and along with Suryakumar Yadav emerged as the strongest claimants to a power-packed middle-order that is shaping up for India for the T20 World Cup.
Has Shikhar Dhawan Lost His Chance?
But the biggest disappointment on the tour was captain Shikhar Dhawan. He played a lot of solid innings and rallied the batting around himself, but he just did not manage to score enough to impress everyone. His pace especially in the T20 format left a lot to be desired. With young blasters coming through thick and fast, it would be very difficult for Dhawan to be part of the T20 World Cup playing XI, even though he might still make it to the larger playing group of 23.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Deepak Chahar showed just why they are India’s best bets in the shorter formats. They are accurate, know to bowl within their limitations and in the case of Kumar he is also back picking wickets. Chahar on the other hand can provide all-round support. But apart from that Chetan Sakariya has a long way to go as he has a lot to learn, while Navdeep Saini’s pace is an asset but he has to develop new weapons in his armoury to trouble international batsmen.
— BCCI (@BCCI) July 29, 2021
How Does the Spin Department Stack Up?
The spin bowling department saw the biggest contests. Kuldeep Yadav did himself no harm by showing sparks of brilliance which means he can continue to be a regular in the ODI format. Yadav’s T20I career will be halted for a while.
For now it appears like the battle will be between Yuzvendra Chahal, Rahul Chahar and Varun Chakravarthy.
With Washington Sundar and Ravindra Jadeja already blocking their T20 World Cup slots as all-rounders, the other three spinners will have a tough task.
Chahal has been challenged by Rahul Chahar’s brilliant spells and Chakravarthy showed just why he has been rated so highly in the T20 format. Ideally India should start with Chahar and Chakravarthy in the T20 World Cup.
Somewhere along the way the only off-spinner in the original squad, Krishnappa Gowtham, did not really make an impact in the only ODI match he played on the tour, though he did pick wickets.
The all-round duo of Pandya brothers Hardik and Krunal will however count as the biggest let-downs of the tour. Till he was laid low by COVID-19, Krunal featured regularly but did not look threatening with the ball or bat. Hardik on the other hand looks a shadow of his former self. The form and fitness of Hardik looks a major worry for India ahead of the T20 World Cup.
— BCCI (@BCCI) July 29, 2021
The Bird's-Eye View
Overall if you were to look at the tour purely from the point of view of who all continued to justify their places in the T20 World Cup squad, there were really no new names that cropped up.
From the Sri Lanka tour, it was only Dhawan, Suryakumar, Kishan, Bhuvi, Deepak and Rahul Chahar, Chahal and Chakravarthy. Shaw might find it difficult to make it to the T20 World Cup this year, though next year he is going to be amongst the first to be picked. But who knows if the selectors and the tour head coach Rahul Dravid do give feedback you might just see Dhawan missing out on the T20 World Cup. Hardik will be a sentimental choice just for old time's sake!
All in all India’s bench strength muffed up an opportunity to blow away Sri Lanka in their backyard. They also missed a chance to show the world that India is really ruling the roost like the former champion sides of Australia and West Indies with reservoirs of talent. Till you are not ruthless at all times like those great sides, you really need to be careful about not being hyperbolic about yourself as a cricketing nation.
(Chandresh Narayanan is a former cricket writer with The Times of India, The Indian Express, ex-Media Officer for ICC and the Delhi Daredevils. He is also the author of World Cup Heroes, Cricket Editorial consultant, professor and cricket TV commentator.)
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