Though it’s not their main team, India’s Sri Lanka sojourn, which begins with the first ODI in Colombo on Sunday, assumes considerable significance. Not only will this be India’s only white-ball assignment before the T20 World Cup in October, but also because there are players in this team, who are at interesting stages in their respective careers. Much will depend on how the coach Rahul Dravid shepherds this motley bunch into maximising their potential over the course of these six games (three ODIs and three T20s). In that vein, this series against the not-so-fancied opponents will be seen as an audition for the big-ticket ICC event.
Can Dravid pull Kuldeep Yadav out of his current crisis? The chinaman bowler, who copped criticism for the lack of pace through the air, was taken to the cleaners by England’s rampaging batsmen in the limited-overs series recently. Down in the pecking order across formats, Kuldeep has cut a forlorn figure in recent times, struggling to find a spot in his IPL franchise — Kolkata Knight Riders. This series could well be Kuldeep’s last shot at redemption. Bhuvneshwar, however, jumped to his teammate’s defence. “I am sure if he does well in this series, he will be confident of doing well. What I always look at is how he is bowling and the execution. It’s about confidence. He is bowling well in the nets, am sure he will pick wickets,” he said.
Despite being a regular in India’s white-ball set-up in the last four years, Yuzvendra Chahal faces the heat from Rahul Chahar. The Mumbai Indians spinner prised 11 scalps from seven games in this IPL. In comparison, Chahal could only muster four scalps from seven outings.
— BCCI (@BCCI) July 17, 2021
The biggest challenge for Dravid would be in helping Manish Pandey make the most of his umpteenth comeback in international cricket. In recent times, Pandey has been battling injuries after getting snubbed from BCCI’s annual contracts. The dashing stroke-maker, who has featured in 26 games spread across five years, and scuttled around in the batting order, will have to bat out of his skin to book a spot in a crowded middle-order that has incumbents like Shreyas Iyer and Suryakumar Yadav.
Like Kuldeep, Krunal Pandya’s road to the UAE looks arduous. It’s not due to his lack of form, but because he does not stand a chance of upstaging a player of Ravindra Jadeja’s calibre.
The core group comprises captain Shikhar Dhawan, his deputy Bhuvneshwar Kumar, all-rounder Hardik Pandya and leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal. Only Hardik and Bhuvneshwar are certainties for the showpiece event. A lot will be riding on Dhawan. There’s an intense debate over who will partner Rohit Sharma in the T20 World Cup. KL Rahul has staked his claim, so has Ishan Kishan, following his blistering knocks for Mumbai Indians in the IPL. To compound matters, captain Virat Kohli has also expressed his desire to partner Rohit. A lacklustre series in Sri Lanka could potentially close the doors on Dhawan, even as Shaw, who has been in sensational form, bludgeoning 308 runs in the truncated IPL, could be back in contention.
— BCCI (@BCCI) July 17, 2021
Eye on the future
Devdutt Padikkal, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Nitish Rana, K. Gowtham, and Chetan Sakariya are among the five uncapped players to receive a call for this series based on the performances of the last two editions of the IPL. These debutants may find it difficult to break into the national team currently, but the selectors have picked them for their obvious talent and with an eye on the future. Padikkal, Gaikwad, and Rana have been in eye-catching batting form in IPL and List-A fixtures, while left-arm seamer Chetan Sakariya justified his plum Rs 1.2 crore IPL price-tag by accounting for the scalps of KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Ambati Rayudu, Suresh Raina, and MS Dhoni.
During an exclusive interaction with The Indian Express a fortnight ago, Prithvi Shaw could barely hide his excitement when asked about the prospect of sharing the dressing-room with Dravid. “There is a different kind of mazaa (enjoyment) playing under Rahul sir. One will expect discipline in the dressing room. I’m looking ahead to the practice sessions with him because I love to speak to him for hours. This tour, I just have to grab the opportunity,” he said. Shaw’s comments not only provide a peek into his current mindset but also establishes the impact Dravid has had on young, impressionable cricketers. “Hopefully, people will get the opportunity to put in some really good performances in the process and give themselves the best chance of knocking on the selectors’ doors,” Dravid has said.