This is Rohit Sharma’s eighth visit to Sri Lanka for a limited-overs series. It would have been Virat Kohli’s eighth too if he’d come, and eleventh for MS Dhoni. We’re not even talking about the times they’ve flown across to the Emerald Isle for Tests. The hospitality isn’t always one-sided either. Sri Lanka come over to India a lot too. Last year between, July and December they played each other in Tests, ODIs and T20s on either side of the Palk Strait—six Tests, 10 ODIs and six T20Is. They’d also met in a Champions Trophy league game before that.
So often have they played each other that series between them in recent times have been approached with a tinge of apathy, at least by those not playing in them. The familiarity might not have quite bred the same kind of contempt amongst the players, or you wouldn’t expect to hear them talk about it anyway. Though a few years ago, then Sri Lanka skipper Kumar Sangakkara couldn’t help but slip in a quip about not recalling the last time he walked into a hotel lobby and not encountered an Indian team there.
It’s been a running joke and demanded a number of memes even before memes became an in-thing. There might be a third team in Bangladesh—who are no strangers to being regular opponents for either India or Sri Lanka—but the apathetic lot will struggle to see the T20 tri-nation series in Colombo any differently.
But with the selectors deciding to several seniors for the tournament to celebrate the island nation’s 70 years of independence, there’ll be no risk of anyone in the squad looking at it with any other way but as a great opportunity. For Rohit, it’ll be another chance at leading the country. For some, it could be a make-or-break fortnight. There are also some who wouldn’t have made it, if it weren’t for the low-profile nature of it. It’ll be the best opportunity they could have asked for to prove their credentials at this level and also establish themselves as the second-line of command even if there might not be too many vacancies in the ODI and T20I set-up now.
KL Rahul: For a brief while at the start of 2017, the Karnataka opener was an automatic at the top of the order across all three formats. It was at a time Shikhar Dhawan’s stocks seem to be falling, rapidly too, in Tests and T20Is. An inopportune shoulder injury opened the door for Dhawan though, and he’s in many ways rammed it shut on Rahul—at least as far as the limited over formats are concerned. He regained his place when Dhawan himself was injured against Sri Lanka in December and scored 61 and 89 in Cuttack and Indore respectively. He still has a sensational average in the shortest format of 50.88 and this will be his best chance to convince the selectors that he’s still good enough to be an automatic.
Manish Pandey: Has Pandey not made the most of his opportunties to establish his spot or has he not got the opportunities he deserves, in terms of batting spots? It perhaps depends on whether you feel the Karnataka right-hander is the No.4 India has been looking for in shorter formats or just someone who hasn’t made his talent count. At 28, it is make or break time for Pandey. The door won’t remain open forever and it’s his responsibility to seal it for his own sake. His two knocks in South Africa were contrasting, struggling in one and free-flowing in the other. He’s been moved around the middle-order a lot in his in-and-out limited-overs career but is likely to get a fixed spot in the top half in Sri Lanka. Time for him to make it his own.
Suresh Raina: Unless Raina has a shocker of a tournament, he will surpass MS Dhoni as the third highest run-getter for India in T20Is. That’s how long he’s been around, and that’s how successful he’s been in the shortest format. It’s one where his technical issues seem to be pushed to the backburner and he emerges playing his most natural game. But it’s his place in the ODI squad—he last played a 50-over international in October 2015—that the 31-year-old is looking to regain, and his performances in South Africa, though not sensational, have brought him back into the picture. He seemed to have been slipping away from the national radar for a while in between before returning earlier this year with a slew of batting performances in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and also by proving his fitness. Raina was given the No.3 spot against the Proteas and he responded with a few kamikaze knocks, but will need to do more to once again be the talisman in the lower-order come the next big World Cup in 2019.
Washington Sundar: India might have moved away from finger-spin for the shorter formats. But Washington Sundar has a niche that remains rather unique. He’s not an off-spinner in the conventional mould. He prefers bowling with the new-ball and played an integral role in Rising Pune Supergiant making it to the IPL final last year. His skills with the ball aren’t of a conventional nature but he does the job of not giving anything away as his brilliant T20 economy rate of 6.48 suggests. No wonder then that the selectors took a punt on him last year. The spin department might look rather plush at the moment with Axar Patel complementing the two wrist spinners. But Sundar could create his own spot, like he did his own niche.
Mohd Siraj: Siraj isn’t like Jasprit Bumrah or Bhuvaneshwar Kumar. He possesses his own variations and executes them rather consistently too. He proved himself across all formats last season and has already appeared in a couple of T20Is against Sri Lanka. He could be a starter along with Jaidev Unadkat and Shardul Thakur in Sri Lanka, and it’ll be the best chance for him to establish himself as the front-runner to come in whenever there’s an injury to one of the high-profile new-ball bowlers in India’s limited-over ranks.