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Wounded India aims to hit back

Stung by shock loss in first T20I against Sri Lanka, Dhoni’s men will welcome return to more familiar conditions

Wounded India aims to hit back - Cricket News
Sri Lanka players celebrate a wicket.
Sri Lanka's surprise victory in the first Twenty20 International on Tuesday has injected interest into a series many initially believed India would win comfortably.

India came into the three-match series as clear favourite, high on form after a 3-0 whitewash of Australia in Australia last month. Riding on the confidence, India announced its squad for the Asia Cup and the ICC World T20 India 2016. The only thing remaining, it seemed, was to use the string of T20Is as preparation for the World T20.

Sri Lanka was at the other end of the spectrum. It arrived in India on the back of a tough trip to New Zealand, where it won only one One-Day International on a tour that included two Tests, five ODIs and two T20Is. The squad seemed unsettled with a number of senior players, including Angelo Mathews and Lasith Malinga, the regular T20I captain, nursing injuries.  

It is against this backdrop that a young side toppled India in Pune, and will seek to carry that momentum through to the second match, at the Jharkhand State Cricket Association Stadium on Friday (February 12). Dinesh Chandimal, the stand-in captain, had spoken ahead of the series of the need for youngsters to grab their chances, throwing around expected phrases like 'opportunity’ and 'learning curve'. Sri Lanka, however, showed that they weren’t just words, its young pace attack stunning India by bowling it out for just 101 to set up a five-wicket win.

The terrific performance was engineered by Kasun Rajitha and Dasun Shanaka, two pacers with just one T20I match and no international wickets prior to Pune. They took three wickets each and were well supported by Dushmantha Chameera and Sachitra Senanayake.

Fifteen of the 18.5 overs were sent down by pacemen, but Sri Lanka might have to change its strategy for Ranchi as the pitch is expected to be a lot drier. The spin attack comprising Senanayake and Seekkuge Prasanna will have a lot more work.

Sri Lanka's batting wasn't tested much in Pune, and it will be strengthened by the return of Tillakaratne Dilshan. The senior batsman, who missed the first game due to a hand injury, seemed comfortable at nets on Thursday and is expected to replace Niroshan Dickwella in the playing XI. Chandimal, who had an extended session with the wicketkeeping gloves, should replace Dickwella behind the stumps.

India had a forgettable start to the homestretch ahead of the World T20 but should welcome the change in conditions. Its batsmen made merry on the fast and bouncy tracks in Australia, and will have to quickly adjust to slower wickets. The conditions might tempt India into handing Pawan Negi an international debut, something Ravi Shastri hinted ahead of the game.

"We are game to play horses for courses," the team director said on match-eve. "We have always done that and if the pitch demands that, we'll do exactly what you said (bringing in Negi). If we think it's going to turn, we have the resources. That is the idea of this team, to have resources for all conditions."

The host will take heart from the fact that Sri Lanka didn't have the easiest of chases in Pune despite the target being modest. India's bowlers did test the inexperienced Sri Lankan line-up and should enjoy a return to more familiar conditions where its spinners will be more effective.

The nature of a three-match series, especially in the T20 format, is such that it's hard to bounce back if the first match is lost. That it is India which finds itself in that position sets up the series perfectly ahead of the second game in Ranchi.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni's men slipped in their captain's newly adopted Indian Premier League home. They cannot afford another slip-up in the city of his birth.

Teams (from):

MS Dhoni (capt, wk), Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Manish Pandey, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Ashish Nehra, Harbhajan Singh, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Pawan Negi.

Sri Lanka: Dinesh Chandimal (capt, wk), Tillakaratne Dilshan, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Seekkuge Prasanna, Milinda Siriwardana, Dhanushka Gunathilaka, Thisara Perera, Dasun Shanaka, Asela Gunaratne, Chamara Kapugedara, Chameera Dushmantha, Dilhara Fernando, Kasun Rajitha, Shaminda Eranga, Sachithra Senanayake, Jeffrey Vandersay.


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