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Navdeep Saini's rise, Malinga's problems and India's change

The things we learned after Virat Kohli and his men beat Sri Lanka 2-0 in the recently concluded T20I series

Deivarayan Muthu
The short three-match T20I series between India and Sri Lanka was further shortened after wet conditions had wiped out the first T20I in Guwahati. Just like any other recent episode of this rivalry, it followed a familiar template: India dominated Sri Lanka, who have lost five T20Is in a row now. ESPNcricinfo looks back at the major talking points from the series.
In the absence of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami and Deepak Chahar, Saini and Thakur had to take their chance and they did. Saini, in particularly, was impressive with his hostile bouncers and near-unplayable yorkers at speeds of 145kph. Even as Jasprit Bumrah made a rusty return from injury, Saini showed that he could be more than just a back-up. After demolishing the stumps of Sri Lanka opener Danushka Gunathilaka in Indore, he cleaned up Kusal Perera in similar fashion in Pune. All told, Saini bagged five wickets in 7.5 overs conceding 46 runs.
Thakur, too, picked up five wickets, including three in an over in the second match. He said that he had worked on perfecting his variations, including the knuckle ball, during his T20 stints with Mumbai and Chennai Super Kings. Thakur then made a telling contribution with the bat, when the series was up for grabs in Pune, cracking an unbeaten 8-ball 22. Thakur's blows propelled India past 200 and he made that total look a whole lot bigger by besting Avishka Fernando and Dasun Shanaka in the chase.
Nothing to separate KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan
This series was shaping up to be a direct shootout between the in-form Rahul and a fit-again Dhawan for the second opener's slot behind limited-overs vice-captain Rohit Sharma. However, there's nothing to separate both batsmen at the end of two games against Sri Lanka.
Dhawan started slowly in Indore as well as Pune, but in that third match, after being 7 off 9, he zoomed to a 34-ball half-century. Rahal also raised a 34-ball fifty to follow his barnstorming run in the series against West Indies late last year.
Rohit, who was rested against Sri Lanka, is slated to return for the ODI series at home against Australia and the T20I series in New Zealand, where the race for the other opener's role will gather more pace.
India are ready to be flexible
India have tried six No. 3s in their last six (completed) T20Is. In Thiruvananthapuram against West Indies last December, it was batting allrounder Shivam Dube who had made the most of the promotion by smacking a 30-ball 54. More recently, against Sri Lanka in Indore, Shreyas Iyer pitched in with a fluent 34 to hasten India's victory. Apart from Virat Kohli, Rahul, Rishabh Pant and reserve wicketkeeper Sanju Samson have also been trialled at No. 3.
"See, it is more to give players [game-time], like how Sanju Samson came in today (at No. 3), then Shreyas [in Indore], so they can get more time in the middle, because it is totally different feel when you are batting in the match and having more overs and so that was the reason today," Dhawan explained.
"Even Manish Pandey went up [the order]. So, they can have more time, otherwise it's the same pattern [that's] going on. In these series, we can do the experiment, it is best time to experiment and once we know, 'okay that this guy is clicking', then we are going to go ahead with those pattern again."
Pandey, who had got a game instead of Dube on Friday, batted above Iyer and Kohli and gave India the fillip they needed in the end overs. He also threw himself around on the field and made some sensational saves at backward point and long-on. By giving the fringe players some chances, India are trying to ensure that they get a decent workout before they face possibly a similar scenario in the T20 World Cup later in the year.
The pressure mounts on Lasith Malinga
Malinga didn't take a single wicket in eight overs and gave up 81 runs and after Sri Lanka went down 2-0, he took part of the blame for his side's poor run. Since Malinga had been reappointed captain, in January 2019, Sri Lanka have lost ten T20Is under him and have won just once. That solitary victory came when Malinga wound the clock back and scooped up four wickets in four balls against New Zealand at home.
So, is the pressure of captaincy getting to Malinga? "Ahh…yes! Captain means, when we have experienced players who can handle situations, it is very easy to do my job," Malinga said at the post-match press conference in Pune. "But now I didn't have that luxury, because when I was captain in 2014, I had Mahela [Jayawardena], Sanga [Kumara Sangakkara], Angelo [Mathews], [Tillakaratne] Dilshan; we had a lot of experienced players, who were single-handed match-winners. They knew what they need to do. Now young players, they are not experienced and I have to guide them and I have to wait and see."
A fit-again Mathews is now back in Sri Lanka's T20 mix, but Malinga and co. still have a lot of work to do considering they still have to play a qualifying tournament to even make it to the T20 World Cup.
Sri Lanka's wristspinners impress
Sri Lanka's top order folded in both matches, their bowling attack was depleted by injuries, and the newly-appointed Mickey Arthur (head coach) and Grant Flower (batting coach) are just feeling their way through the set-up. However, Sri Lanka had some positives from this series in the form of the wristspinners Wanindu Hasaranga and Lakshan Sandakan.
"When there was no Murali [Muttiah Muralitharan], we still had to win," Malinga had said on the eve of the washed-out T20I in Guwahati. "When there's no Akila [Dananjaya], we still have to win".
Hasaranga has more than filled in for Dananjaya in recent months and has a zippy wrong'un that can trouble even the very best. In addition to the variations with the ball, he is a fine batsman in the lower order and it was on view when he slammed Bumrah for three successive boundaries in the last over in Indore. Hasaranga is also reputed to be one of the best fielders in the current Sri Lankan batch.
With Hasaranga by his side, left-arm wristspinner Sandakan made a sparkling return to T20I cricket, picking up 3 for 35 in four overs, in a match where India amassed 201 for 6. Sandakan isn't as attractive an all-round package as Hasaranga, but seems to have greater control over his lines and lengths.
"We have got a plus point that is [Lakshan] Sandakan and [Wanindu] Hasaranga bowled well in these conditions and against this kind of batting line up," Malinga said. "Going forward, we are looking forward to give opportunity to all these players because we didn't have time to change our line-up and get new guys into the system. The management and I want to give maximum opportunities because they are talented players."

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo