India will look to cement their number one status in the Twenty20 format when they begin a three-match series against Sri Lanka on Tuesday, their final work-out on home soil before hosting the World T20.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s side vaulted seven places in the T20 rankings after their recent 3-0 away series win against Australia, and will look to build on their momentum when they face the Graham Ford-coached Sri Lanka. The series is Ford’s first assignment since returning for a second stint in charge of the islanders last week.
After a relatively disappointing tour of Australia, India’s spin king Ravichandran Ashwin will look to the series as an opportunity to get back in the groove ahead of the Asia Cup, which will be hosted by Bangladesh, ahead of the World T20.
Ashwin, the world’s top spinner in Test cricket, was outshone Down Under by Ravindra Jadeja and Jasprit Bumrah but the conditions back home are expected to suit him well.
Dhoni is a big fan of the lanky off-spinnner and told reporters last month that Ashwin’s dip in form was due in part to the side’s increasing reliance on him in all formats.
“He just makes my job slightly easy, especially for a consistent period of time when my fast bowlers have not done well,” Dhoni said in Australia.
“It is good to have him and I think he is a great asset to the side irrespective of the format.”
Star batsman Virat Kohli has been rested but India’s other big names are set to feature against Sri Lanka, who are the reigning World T20 champions and could leapfrog their hosts in the rankings if they pull off a surprise victory.
Kohli has been replaced by Manish Pandey, who struck a century in the last of the ODIs in Australia but failed to make the cut for the World T20 squad that was announced on Friday.
The series could see the young Delhi all-rounder Pawan Negi handed a debut after he was surprisingly picked in the 15-man World T20 squad.
While India carry a familiar look, Sri Lanka have been forced to field a depleted side with a number of their top players staying at home.
The likes of regular T20 skipper Lasith Malinga, Test captain Angelo Mathews and premier spinner Rangana Herath are racing against time to get fit for the World T20.
Having been recently outplayed by New Zealand in the recent Test, ODI and T20 series, Sri Lanka will also be without the services of veteran batsman Tillakaratne Dilshan, who will miss the first game with a hand injury.
Ford, who also coached the islanders from 2012-14, has called for patience as Sri Lanka embark on a rebuilding phase.
“I think Sri Lanka cricket finds itself in the very early stages of a very important rebuilding stage. A lot of hard work needs to be done,” the South African said last week.
The two teams will face each other on February 9 (Pune), February 12 (Ranchi) and February 14 (Visakhapatnam).