As India and Sri Lanka prepare to take each other on in a three-match T20I series, we look at a combined XI from both teams.
India and Sri Lanka face off yet again in a bilateral series, this time in the shortest format of the game. We as fans have trolled bilaterals between these nations for a long while primarily because they play each other a lot. A LOT that is. But so do India and Australia, although this kind of hatred for a series isn't seen with the bilaterals against the Men from Down Under.
But let's get to that later because there seems to be nothing stopping these teams from meeting once a year at least. The shortest format of the game is supposed to be like football where a minnow can probably beat a giant team by somehow scoring first and then pulling all 11 men in defence. No, not that easy, though, but a T20 game is anybody's if the teams are at least competitive on approximately the same level.
As such identifying a combined XI might be an arduous task. But here goes.
KL Rahul is an obvious pick given a T20I average of 43.76 in 34 T20Is and scores of 52, 62, 11 and 91 in his last four matches for India. He will obviously be partnered by Rohit Sharma at the top. Sri Lanka have Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Avishka Fernando, Danushka Gunathilaka and Oshada Fernando in their ranks, but none of them quite add up to even Shikhar Dhawan, who despite his dwindling returns in the shortest format, still averages 32 with a strike rate above 130 in T20Is since the last World Cup T20.
Virat Kohli is a no-brainer at no.3 because...well, because he is Virat Kohli. Manish Pandey might struggle to make the Indian team as of now, but an average of 43.69 in the format for India with a strike rate close to 125 means he pips Iyer to the no. 4 spot although based on recent form Iyer makes a good shout himself.
The keeper's spot seems to be a tight one with Pant up against Niroshan Dickwella. But that's only until you glance at the T20 records of the two batsmen. While Dickwella averages 21.47 in all T20s, striking at 138.93, Pant averages 33.01 and has a whopping strike rate of 156.37. He even has two hundreds including the second-highest score by an Indian in the format. Now, both haven't translated that form for their country, so based on all T20s, Pant should pip Dickwella.
Shivam Dube in his four T20Is averages 32 and strikes at 152.38. With the ball, he bowled a match-turning spell of 3/30 against Bangladesh recently. His competition is Angelo Mathews and Dasun Shanaka, neither of whom, despite the reputation they carry, fare well enough statistically and on a recent form to beat Dube to the line-up. Even if Dube doesn't fit in, Hardik Pandya, on an injury break now, and Washington Sundar comfortably trump the Lankan duo in the team.
With six of the 11 slots filled, we have some interesting spots up for grabs, but Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav are lockdowns given their averages of 20.18, 21.9 and 13.49 respectively. Malinga probably slots in too, with an average of 19.44, but oh wait. His fitness levels are concerning and in 6 of the 10 T20I games in 2019 for Sri Lanka, he never took more than a wicket when not going wicketless. Deepak Chahar, meanwhile, has recent form in his favour although he is injured for this series. A T20I average of 14.76 is complemented by a recent hat-trick and career-best T20I figures of 6 for 7.
Sundar should slot in as a third spinner batting at probably no 7 or 8, with his off-spin contributing to an economy of just 6.61 since the last World T20. We have a pretty balanced outfit in this combined XI, although we must admit there's no room for a Sri Lankan player from the current crop of players.
Our Combined XI: Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer/Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant, Shivam Dube/Hardik Pandya, Washington Sundar, Deepak Chahar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Jasprit Bumrah, Kuldeep Yadav
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Dibyangshu Sarkar