MUMBAI: When it comes to India playing Sri Lanka at the Wankhede Stadium, the immediate thing that comes to mind is the night of April 2, 2011, when the Men in Blue beat Lanka in a memorable final to clinch their second ODI World Cup trophy.
On Tuesday, when India take on familiar rivals Sri Lanka in the opening T20I of a three-match series, this historic venue, which is hosting a T20I after three years, will see another special occasion. The match, set to be witnessed by a near-capacity crowd, will mark the start of a new era in T20 cricket for India.
In a clear sign that winds of change are now sweeping through Indian cricket following an ordinary year, star allrounder Hardik Pandya will launch his reign as the fulltime captain of India’s T20I team, with all the three seniors — Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul — missing from the ranks.
Not to be missed is the fact that India’s T20I team now has a brand new vice-captain too in the dashing Suryakumar Yadav, whose white-ball exploits in 2022 have seen him being justifiably nominated for the ICC men’s T20I player of the year award. What makes this game doubly memorable for him is that this is the first time ‘SKY’ will turn up in India colours in front of his home crowd.
A new year 🗓️A new start 👍🏻A new Vice-captain – @surya_14kumar – for the Sri Lanka T20I series 😎#TeamIndia had… https://t.co/TurJulePTg
— BCCI (@BCCI) 1672679021000
It will also be a sweet homecoming of a different sort for Yadav’s Mumbai Indians teammate Ishan Kishan. This will be the explosive left-handed opener’s first India outing since Dec 10, the day he broke Chris Gayle’s record and smashed the fastest ODI double hundred (210 off 131 balls) against Bangladesh. It will be interesting to see who opens with Kishan, the talented Shubman Gill or Ruturaj Gaikwad, who has staged a comeback after an excellent show for Maharashtra in the Vijay Hazare Trophy.
Last year, under Pandya’s stand-in-captaincy, India won two T20I series in Ireland and then in New Zealand, but this is Pandya’s first serious crack at India’s captaincy. It can be safely said that a few senior players have been excluded by the outgoing national selection committee from this team, specifically with an eye to build a younger, new-look, fresh and energetic side for the 2024 T20 World Cup in the West Indies and USA. Before they leave office, chief selector Chetan Sharma and his colleagues have done well to press the ‘reset’ button in time when it comes to T20Is.
‘In World Cup, our approach wasn’t the same as earlier’
One of the biggest mistakes that India made in the T20 World Cup last year was abandoning their carefree, aggressive approach, choosing to go back to the more conservative attitude that had already cost them the 2021 T20 World Cup. Almost admitting to the blunder, Pandya promised that ‘his team’ would look to reintroduce that template in T20Is once again.
“You see, before the (T20) World Cup, I don’t think we did anything wrong. Our template, approach, everything was the same. Yes, in the World Cup, things didn’t go how we wanted. And I think our approach was not what it was before the World Cup.
“What we have noticed and told the boys is that just go out there and express (yourself), which they will do. And it’s up to us how we back them. What we have said is that we’re going to back you to the core. All the players have that support from my side that I’m going to back them to the core,” Pandya said.
This will also be the first international outing on Indian soil for new pace gun Umran Malik. Though Umran has played just 3 T20Is, in which he has taken 2 wickets at an economy rate of 12. 44, the tearaway is expected to be a key bowler for India.
“Obviously he has pace. Everyone knows how exciting a prospect he is. We will give him enough opportunities, backing and support from our side (so) that he can flourish here,” Pandya said.
Lanka, meanwhile, are led by allrounder Dasun Shanaka, who has a knack of doing well against India with the bat. Though India whitewashed them 3-0 at home last year, they lost to the Islanders in the ‘Super 4’ stage of the Asia Cup in Dubai in September.
While Pandya avoided terms like “settling scores,” he did reveal that India would look to “intimidate” the Lankans with their brand of “fearless cricket”.
“We’re not looking to ‘settle’ anything. We want to play good cricket. Yes, we will make them feel like we’re in India, don’t worry about that. I assure and promise you they will feel that they’re playing an international team, that too India in India.
“We’re going to be clear. We don’t need to go and sledge them. Our body language is enough for them to feel a little intimidated,” Pandya said.