After about three and a half months, the Indian white-ball side will be back in action. However, due to the COVID-19 protocols and tight scheduling, this is a different looking Indian side. While the Test team is still in the United Kingdom, Shikhar Dhawan will lead the white-ball teams as they tour Sri Lanka for a series of three ODIs and three T20I from July. 

Sri Lanka has been going through a transition themselves and hasn’t had the best of times in the recent past. They will be desperate to get some sort of confidence going. They’ve had off-field issues as well as there is a pay dispute going on. 

With less than a week to go for the tour to kickstart, what can we expect from this upcoming Sri Lanka-India series? What will be the talking points?

Can Sri Lanka put up a fight?

Sri Lanka’s form in white-ball cricket has been dismal, to say the least. In the ongoing ICC Men's Cricket World Cup Super League, Sri Lanka is third from the bottom. Even that position was courtesy of five points because of a washout in the third ODI in England. They have managed to win a mere one game and have lost seven. They have lost three back-to-back ODI series against West Indies, Bangladesh, and England respectively. 

Their form in T20Is is just as bad. Since the start of the year 2020, Sri Lanka has lost nine and won just one T20I. India, West Indies (twice), and England have all beaten them comfortably. Sri Lanka is already in the first round of the ICC T20 World Cup and needs to qualify for the Super 12s. If this form continues, the 2014 T20 World Cup champions could well be knocked out in the first phase.

The worry is not even the losses but the way Sri Lanka has lost. In most of the games, they haven’t even come anywhere close to winning or even dominating a phase of the game. There have been barely any games where Sri Lanka has dominated or looked clinical. 

Hence, the big question would be, can Sri Lanka put up a fight? Moreover, India’s record in Sri Lanka over the last few years has been commanding. Sri Lanka has won just one out of their last 10 ODIs against India at home. Worrying signs? Most certainly.

Can Prithvi Shaw cement his place?

Be it on the field or off it, Prithvi Shaw has had a topsy-turvy run in the last couple of years. Shaw went through a low phase towards the end of 2020 where his form dipped in the IPL and he was eventually dropped from the Delhi Capitals side before he had a torrid tour to Australia where he was dropped after failing in the first Test. 

However, Shaw bounced back in style, smashing 827 runs at an average of 165.40 in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. He backed that up with a solid IPL season as he amassed 308 runs at an average of 38.50 and a strike rate of 166.48. The Mumbai-born batsman wasn’t picked in the Test squad for the series of England, however, and there have been rumours going around about his potential return as a replacement for Shubman Gill. 

A good series here could see him cement his place across formats, at least as the backup option. KL Rahul’s move to the middle-order in ODIs has opened up a slot for the reserve opener. There is competition for the opening slot in T20Is but Shaw can push himself into the mix with a good series.

Can Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Hardik Pandya get back into the groove ahead of the T20 World Cup?

There is absolutely no doubt that India would have loved to have Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Hardik Pandya in the Test side in England at the moment. But constant injuries and fitness issues have meant that both of them missed the bus and have been out of the Test side since 2018. One of the main reasons for their exclusion from the England tour is the upcoming T20 World Cup and their importance on the side. 

Hardik Pandya is India’s premier seam-bowling all-rounder and finisher in the side. Meanwhile, Bhuvneshwar Kumar is the first-choice fast bowler alongside Jasprit Bumrah. Hence, the duo will be absolutely vital in the showpiece event which is scheduled to be played in October-November later this year in the UAE. 

Kumar played five games in the IPL and looked off-colour, picking up just three wickets. Pandya didn’t fare too well either. The Baroda all-rounder didn’t bowl due to his back injury and he could muster just 52 runs in six innings. Hence, both the Indian white-ball regulars will want to hit their straps in this series. There have been reports that Pandya is back to bowling in the nets and his availability with the ball will be crucial for India during the T20 World Cup.

Who has the best chance to make it to the T20 World Cup?

Players from both sides, Sri Lanka and India will have one eye on the upcoming T20 World Cup. Sri Lanka has had a terrible run and has used as many as 24 players since January 2020 in T20Is. They will want to sort out their best players and give them a real go ahead of the mega tournament which is just a little over three months away. 

Meanwhile, India boasts of some of the best fringe players. Apart from a few regulars, most players will want to impress the selectors and push for a permanent place in India’s T20I side. The likes of Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan, and Krunal Pandya have been impressive in the recent past and will want to strengthen their case. Meanwhile, India may well be unsure of their T20I spin attack as well. Thus, the likes of Varun Chakravarthy and Rahul Chahar will want to put pressure on someone like Yuzvendra Chahal by putting inconsistent performances in the ODIs.

What can the partnership of Shikhar Dhawan and Rahul Dravid conjure?

Shikhar Dhawan will lead the Indian side in the absence of the regulars like Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma. He is an experienced player and has been around for a while. He has been a regular member of the Indian white-ball team since 2013. Moreover, Rahul Dravid has been appointed as the head coach. The latter is highly rated and respected across the cricketing fraternity and the entire Indian team is very excited to have him at the helm. Moreover, with Ravi Shastri’s term coming to an end after the T20 World Cup and no clarity on his renewal, Dravid could well be in line to take up the role of the head coach. 

The experience of Dhawan and Dravid will have a calming influence on their entire squad, most of whom will be looking to make a mark and impress the selectors. Dravid’s role, in particular, may be critical as his ability to mentor and guide players is no secret.