CHENNAI: When Hardik Pandya was asked about India’s T20 approach on the eve of the first T20I against Sri Lanka, he did not mince words. The 29-year-old said that till the World Cup in Australia, the team had the same approach throughout 2022, but it was not exactly the same in the marquee event.
“Before the World Cup, I don’t think we did anything wrong. Our template, our approach, our everything was the same. Just that in the World Cup, things did not go the way we wanted and I think our approach was not exactly what it was before the World Cup,” Hardik had said on Monday.
Since the World Cup in Australia, India had a result only in a T20I and have only six more in 2023 before the Indian Premier League gets underway. Which is why, despite seemingly inconsequential in the larger scheme of things during an ODI World Cup year, the T20Is against Sri Lanka hold some significance.
And on Tuesday, the Pandya-led side was back to the batting approach they had through the bilaterals in 2022 against Sri Lanka. Openers Ishan Kishan and Shubman Gill did not waste any time going after the Lankan pacers, smashing 26 runs in two overs. Indian cricket’s favourite word was back in play — intent.
But Sri Lanka had an ace in their hole as well. Dasun Shanaka used the match ups extremely well. He brought in Maheesh Theekshana and the mystery spinner delivered. Over the next five overs, India managed to score only 21 runs while losing Gill, Suryakumar Yadav and Sanju Samon — 47/3 after seven overs.
In all three dismissals, there was something common though. They all tried to find the boundary and lost their wickets. Samson, who was almost caught on the previous delivery on the ropes, went for the big hit again and was caught. Kishan and Pandya made the recovery, but by the time the latter got out, India were 94/5 in 14.1 overs, with the tourists controlling the proceedings.
In comes Deepak Hooda. Not long ago, Hooda smashed a T20I century as a No.3. But when the senior pros came back, he was soon brought down the order as a floater of sorts who can bowl a bit of off-spin. Having not got to play much in the World Cup, Hooda was back to the same role at the Wankhede Stadium against Sri Lanka.
While Hooda’s strength is essentially batting at the top, there is more to him. Since 2021, he has been striking at 144.17 against spin in T20s. Tuesday was no different as Hooda took some liking to Wanindu Hasaranga and Theekshana, smashing 26 runs off 13 balls against the spin duo on his way to an unbeaten 23-ball 41. With Axar Patel, he added 68 runs in 35 balls to take India to 162/5. Axar, too, scored an handy 20-ball 31.
In reply, Sri Lanka put up a fight after being reduced to 68/5 with skipper Shanaka hitting a 27-ball 45. From thereon, Chamika Karunaratne took over with an unbeaten 16-ball 23. He almost took Sri Lanka across the line in the final over, but Axar Patel held his nerve to defend four runs of the final ball to hand India a two-run win. Debutant Shiva Mavi was the pick of the bowlers, taking 4/22 in four overs
India dominating a bilateral T20I is not a surprise and there is very little to make of a team’s approach from one game, let alone a series. However, it is important to keep an eye on how this series goes and what the team does in every match. For it is almost the same group of players under the same captain from the New Zealand tour. And every game is an opportunity to shape the team through the unofficial T20 transition that has begun, and to see how the youngsters respond to every challenge that comes their way. Safe to say, Tuesday was a good start.