India and Sri Lanka were to begin their year playing each other in Guwahati on Sunday, but rain allowed nothing more than a toss. Our preview for the first T20I, therefore, could serve just as well as a preview to the second T20 in Indore.
Lasith Malinga has a problem. He has captained Sri Lanka to a World T20 title, but that was way back in 2014. Now, almost six years later, there are serious doubts over his leadership. Since he took over as captain again, in 2019, Sri Lanka have lost nine matches under him, and won only once. There's no doubt he's the best player in the side - that one victory came in the match in which he took four wickets in four balls for the second time in his limited-overs career. But can he get the best out of the ten remaining players in the side? Sri Lanka are a relatively young team. Malinga has as much T20 nous as anybody. But is he a competent manager of inexperienced players?
Malinga has another problem. Lately, India haven't lost many series to Sri Lanka. In fact, India have not lost a bilateral series to Sri Lanka - in any format - in more than ten years. In T20Is, Sri Lanka at least have the bragging rights of having defeated India in a World T20 final in 2014. But where Sri Lanka were serious rivals in the 90s and the aughts, India have more recently begun considering Sri Lanka matches a low-profile fixture. Often, they rest their regular captain. This time, they have rested their batsman of 2019, Rohit Sharma.
Can the visitors turn the tables in 2020? Their young batsmen were glorious in Pakistan in September, and awful in the Australia series that followed. Young legspinner Wanindu Hasaranga was similarly a revelation in Lahore, but not so great in Adelaide and Brisbane.
India, however, are not as difficult to beat in this format as they are in others. They have not been quite as dominant in this format as they would like to be either, They lost T20I series in New Zealand and Australia in 2019, and also lost matches at home to West Indies, Bangladesh and South Africa (though India didn't lose any of those series).
India WLWWW (completed matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka LLLWW
In the spotlight
Remember the Nidahas Trophy? That tournament won by India in a whirl of Dinesh Karthik sixes? The hero of that final is not in the India squad, but one of the heroes of the round robin, Washington Sundar, is. While maintaining an economy rate of under six, he took eight wickets in five matches in that tournament, five of those coming against Sri Lanka. Washington hasn't had much fortune since the Nidahas Trophy, though, taking only six wickets in 12 matches. Can a favoured opposition prod him back into wicket-taking form?
Angelo Mathews hasn't played a T20I since August 2018. The reason? Well, his batting isn't particularly devastating anymore, and injuries have dictated that he can't bowl much. He has been bowling in the nets in the approach to this series, however, and that may explain why he has been picked in the squad again, after such a long hiatus. If he does bowl, he could offer that crucial control with the new ball that Sri Lanka have been yearning for, while letting Malinga save his overs until late in the innings. If he only bats, Sri Lanka will hope he captures his best hitting form from years gone by. Malinga described Mathews as Sri Lanka's "best finisher" ahead of the first match.
Malinga has suggested that Niroshan Dickwella and Kusal Mendis may not play.
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Danushka Gunathilaka, 2 Oshada Fernando, 3 Avishka Fernando, 4 Bhanuka Rajapaksa, 5 Kusal Perera (wk), 6 Angelo Mathews, 7 Dasun Shanaka, 8 Isuru Udana, 9 Wanindu Hasaranga, 10 Lasith Malinga (capt), 11 Lahiru Kumara/Kasun Rajitha
Jasprit Bumrah is likely to slot right back into the XI as he returns after recovering from a stress fracture. With India prioritising batting depth of late, both spin-bowling allrounders could play, with Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal having to battle it out for the lone wristspinner's slot.
India: 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 KL Rahul, 3 Virat Kohli (capt), 4 Shreyas Iyer, 5 Rishabh Pant (wk), 6 Shivam Dube, 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Washington Sundar, 9 Kuldeep Yadav/ Yuzvendra Chahal, Shardul Thakur, 11 Jasprit Bumrah
Pitch and conditions
In the peak of winter, Indore is likely to be pleasant on the skin. The pitch generally leans towards the batting side too, and it is a small ground, which could mean exciting strokeplay if the spinners don't get a chance to call some shots.
Stats and trivia
- Washington Sundar averages 14.20 and has an economy rate of 5.91 against Sri Lanka.
- Mathews averages 78.00 in India with the bat, in T20Is. This is largely thanks to his four not outs in six innings. He strikes at 130.00.
- In the only T20I played so far in Indore, Rohit Sharma made everyone dream of a T20 double-century against Sri Lanka with his 118 off 43 balls. Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal were the most effective bowlers across teams that night - they took a combined 7 for 104 in eight overs
"Akila [Dananjaya]'s bowling action isn't great at the moment, and he might be cleared before the World Cup, but we don't know what's after that. Still we have young spinners and we need to give opportunities to them."
Sri Lanka captain Lasith Malinga
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf