The three South-East Asian nations of India Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are engaging themselves in a number of T-20 fixtures in the next few weeks with the eye set firmly on the ICC T20 World Cup in March 2015. The three countries account for nearly 70% of cricket global viewership at venues or television and any other sport in this part of the world can be dubbed only as a very poor cousin to cricket. Before they derailed the Indian batting machine in Pune on February 9, it was widely believed that Sri Lanka’s task would be herculean after India recently whitewashed Australia 3-0 in this format. But to borrow the old phrase associated with the sport, the glorious uncertainties really make cricket an interesting game. Dinesh Chandimal had the first laugh that also made the Lankans back home happy as Indian lions were tamed in their own dens on Tuesday.
Before Sri Lanka arrived in India, some analysts believed that shorn of Mahela Jayawardane, Kumara Sangakkara, Angelo Mathews and Lasith Malinga, the team from across the Palk Straits had inferior credentials. The comparison was drawn from the last time that India and Sri Lanka played against one another in the last World T20 final in April 2014. India batted miserably and lost the match by 6 wickets. The versatility of the Lankans, two years ago sent them to the top of the T-20 rankings. Before the Pune game on February 9, cricket journalists also accounted for India’s super show in the 3-match T-20 series against Australia. It hasn’t been even two weeks since then and therefore India looked a better side than Sri Lanka on paper. A number of senior cricketers have since left Sri Lanka. Some couldn’t accompany the team on India tour for various reasons and there is no mystery bowler. On all accounts, it seemed as if Sri Lanka’s task in India was destined to be difficult under Dinesh Chandimal.
MS Dhoni may be highly rated but Sri Lanka never lacked cricketing intelligence and the wit that went into their planning was second to none. While Kumara Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardane were Sri Lanka’s batting pillars, they always had some bowler, who had the capability of outfoxing the best batsmen in the world. From Muttiah Muralitharan, Rangana Herat, Ajantha Mendis to Lasith Malinga, Sri Lanka had at least one of them in their ranks until recently. But things have changed and Sri Lanka had been considered as under-strength side before the first T-20 game. Although the team under Dinesh Chandimal came out with flying colors at Pune, sustenance over the rest of the series and thereafter will depend on several factors. At 26, Chandimal is a seasoned cricketer and he has been appointed as the Sri Lanka T-20 captain for the second time. Earlier, Chandimal had led Sri Lanka in 2013 before the reigns were handed over to Lasith Malinga for the 2014 T-20 World Cup. In his new avatar yesterday, Chandimal looked composed and kept himself fully involved. After being on field for almost 19 overs of India’s innings, Chandimal came out in the first over after the fall of Niroshan Dickewalla and left only in the 15th over. By then Sri Lanka’s victory had already become a foregone conclusion. There was nothing, which Chandimal did wrong at Pune. He won the toss and used a new bowler to pressurize Indians, took a marvelous catch and affected a run out. Then he remained on the batting crease all through, except the last 3 overs of Sri Lankan innings. Chandimal’s score of 35 off 35 balls was Sri Lanka’s top score and it laid the foundation of their 5-wicket victory.
As Sri Lanka go to Ranchi for the second T-20 game, their morale must be sky high. But in Chandimal, they have someone, who would prevent his men from reading too much from the Pune game. Indian batsmen have erred once but they have the capability of bouncing back. Though Virat Kohli is rested for the series, others are equally capable. Making his comeback in T-20 games after 5 years, Nehra did pretty well against Australia and he was India’s best new ball bowler against Sri Lanka in Pune as well. Cricket, however, is a funny game indeed. India made history by trouncing Australia 3-0 in Australia but after winning in style on overseas pitches, Indian batsmen looked clueless at home against the Sri Lanka bowlers. However, the shock at Pune would have alerted India and hopefully, India’s top order batsmen could learn from their mistakes.
After the last T-20 game at Vishakhapatnam, Sri Lanka and India will go to Bangladesh for the Asia Cup, which concludes on March 6. Thus the teams will have enough opportunities to test themselves before the T-20 World Cup begins on March 8. 2016.