The tough grind of playing a series of Twenty20 matches seems to have finally caught up with India. In the past week, at least four players have pulled up with niggles or injuries. While none are serious, they have raised concerns in the lead up to the World Twenty20, which starts on March 8 with India’s opening game a week later.
The biggest concern is over the two opening batsmen. While Shikhar Dhawan did not play against Pakistan on Saturday, partner Rohit Sharma took a blow during the win after a Mohammad Amir yorker crushed his left toe.
Dhawan took part in the India training session on Monday, on the eve of their clash against Sri Lanka. However, his troublesome left ankle was strapped and he spent more time with the team physio than in the nets. Rohit skipped the session altogether. Team officials said Rohit has luckily suffered no crack but there was only swelling and the batsman was recovering.
Except for Virat Kohli’s return to the side for the Asia Cup, India have maintained the same playing eleven since the T20 series in Australia. That is a string of eight games.
Having won both their games in Bangladesh, India can afford to rest a few players in the remaining two group games. Although they need to win one of the next two matches to be assured of a spot in the final, the last group game is against unfancied United Arab Emirates.
Resting the injured openers would be ideal. However, with Ajinkya Rahane the only other option as opener outside the playing eleven, it will be difficult to replace both Dhawan and Rohit if the team management insists on playing seven batsmen.
Parthiv Patel, who came into the squad as cover for skipper MS Dhoni, cannot be used unless a member from the initial 15 is ruled out of the tournament, and not just rested for a game.
India have three others in the reserves --- Harbhajan Singh, uncapped all-rounder Pawan Negi and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. None of them have got a game.
The Asia Cup is being seen as final preparation for the side ahead of the WT20. Dhoni and team director Ravi Shastri had suggested that the series will be used to experiment and they may be give exposure to players who have yet to see action.
So far though, only injury to Dhawan forced a change with Rahane playing against Pakistan. He was also brought in as replacement after Kohli was rested for the home series against Sri Lanka.
India cannot afford to have any injury worries for their main players so close to the WT20. Thus, Rahane should ideally feature against Sri Lanka in place of Rohit.
The lack of opening options mean India in all likelihood will field Dhawan despite the ankle problem. However, considering their strong position in the tournament, the team management might be forced to make the changes they have been promising.
WT20 champions Sri Lanka, upset by Bangladesh on Sunday, too have a major fitness concern in skipper Lasith Malinga. The 33-year-old pace spearhead did not play against Bangladesh on Sunday and team officials said he has not fully recovered.