Look, let’s be real. It’s been a while since Sri Lanka were on India’s level in limited-overs cricket.
But even with those two wins, India have won 11 of the last 14 completed T20Is between these teams. In India, the stats are even bleaker for Sri Lanka – two wins from ten completed matches, one of which came all the way back in 2009 (three whole lifetimes, in T20 years). For all the buzz about this improving Sri Lanka side, they’ve lost seven of their ten T20Is since the start of the main draw of last year’s T20 World Cup.
Both teams are missing big players. Virat Kohli is rested, as is Rishabh Pant, and now Deepak Chahar and Suryakumar Yadav have picked up injuries as well. But because Sri Lanka don’t have as much depth, their big injuries seem more consequential. Wanindu Hasaranga – their best player – has not even made the trip, thanks to Covid. Beyond this, the Player of the Match from their last T20 in Australia – Kusal Mendis – and their most consistent powerplay bowler from the last year – Maheesh Theekshana – are also in serious doubt for this game, having sustained injuries themselves.
In their last T20I series, India had comfortably beaten West Indies in all three matches, though in that series, they’d had the likes of Suryakumar, Kohli, and Pant play important innings. If Sri Lanka want to upset their hosts though, they will have to raise their game substantially. The top order, which will be without Mendis, Kusal Perera, and Avishka Fernando (Perera and Fernando are injured) will have to be more effective than it had been in Australia. And minus Hasaranga, and probably Theekshana, the likes of legspinner Jeffrey Vandersay and left-arm spinner Praveen Jayawickrama will have to step up as well.
(completed matches, most recent first)
Sri Lanka WLLLL
In the spotlight
Legpsinners generally do well against Sri Lanka. As he has a strike rate of 10.8 against them, Yuzvendra Chahal probably knows this. In his most recent T20I against them, Chahal took only one wicket, but then went for just 19 runs in his four overs. He is, however, coming off a modest series against West Indies, where he went at more than eight an over. Sri Lanka’s shaky middle order might be the perfect opposition to bounce back against.
In a little over a year at the top level, 23-year-old Pathum Nissanka has not merely established himself, his performances have suggested he is an all-format player for a decade to come. He’s not the first one to trod this path, though. Others have showed similar promise at this stage of their careers, and faltered into middling, modest, and troubled careers. A tour of India is a huge test for a young batter. He at least has the confidence of having topped the run charts in Australia (where he hit 184 T20I runs in five innings) going into this.
Pitch and conditions
Rain is not forecast to interrupt the match, but as winter is still around, the temperature may drop in the evening, and dew may form. In the T20Is it has hosted, the pitch at Lucknow has generally made for middling scores.
Minus Suryakumar, the likes of Deepak Hooda could get a spot in the XI while Venkatesh Iyer would have to shoulder more responsibility with the bat. Rohit Sharma may bat down at No. 4 to allow Ruturaj Gaikwad to open, as he had done in the most recent match, against West Indies.
India (possible): 1 Ishan Kishan, 2 Ruturaj Gaikwad, 3 Sanju Samson (wk), 4 Rohit Sharma, 5 Shreyas Iyer, 6 Venkatesh Iyer, 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Harshal Patel, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Yuzvendra Chahal, 11 Jasprit Bumrah
Dinesh Chandimal will likely return to the XI and take the gloves if Mendis is unavailable. Legspinner Jeffrey Vandersay and left-arm spinner Praveen Jayawickrama are likely to be the two lead spinners if Theekshana does not play.
Sri Lanka (possible): 1 Danushka Gunathilaka, 2 Pathum Nissanka, 3 Charith Asalanka, 4 Janith Liyanage, 5 Dinesh Chandimal (wk), 6 Dasun Shanaka, 7 Chamika Karunaratne, 8 Dushmantha Chameera, 9 Jeffrey Vandersay, 10 Binura Fernando, 11 Praveen Jayawickrama
Stats and trivia
“Even though the spinners we might field tomorrow don’t have a lot of experience, players like Jeffrey Vandersay and Praveen Jayawickrama have a lot of talent.”
Sri Lanka captain Dasun Shanaka on the spin options likely available to him on Thursday.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf