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Red-hot India eye another scalp as Samson braces for comeback

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The return of Sanju Samson, a proven performer in the Indian Premier League but who hasn't done enough justice to his talents, was welcomed by skipper Rohit Sharma with a lot of hope and also purpose. "That guy has got talent, man. Whenever we see him bat in IPL, he's just produced an innings where everyone goes over the moon watching that innings. He's got the skillset to succeed," said Rohit, who was quick to point out the critical aspect of converting potential and match-winning skills into something of utility for the team.

Rohit also added that Samson's shot-making repertoire would serve India well in the T20 World Cup in Australia later this year. Samson last featured in the Indian team in July 2021 when they lost the T20I series in Sri Lanka, and his contributions were 27, 7 and 0. With Suryakumar Yadav now being ruled out of the series with a thumb injury, Samson is likely to get another opportunity to prove his abilities and he'll be eager to make this one count.

Several cases of COVID-19 in the Indian squad in Sri Lanka last year, coupled with the majority of their main players in England gearing up for the Test series, meant that they were under-staffed in their batting when they went down 1-2 in the T20I leg. But they have adequate fire-power now in their batting department, and the return of Jasprit Bumrah and Ravindra Jadeja will be a boost for the Indian team who will be chasing a record.

Following the losses to Pakistan and New Zealand in the T20 World Cup last year, India have enjoyed a winning streak that has now extended to nine games. This is their best run in the format and they have the opportunity to make it the joint best in T20I cricket - joining Afghanistan and Romania who have 12 wins - should they achieve a cleansweep against Sri Lanka.

Wanindu Hasaranga, who fetched a commanding price of INR. 10.75 Crore from RCB in the IPL auction, has tested positive again for COVID-19 and is undergoing an extended isolation. While admitting that Hasaranga will be "a big miss", Sri Lanka captain Dasun Shanaka also felt India's strong batting line-up, even with Virat Kohli, Rishabh Pant and Suryakumar missing, will pose a big challenge for his team.

When: India vs Sri Lanka, 1st T20I, Thursday, February 24 at 7 PM IST

Where: Bharat Ratna Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee Ekana Cricket Stadium, Lucknow

What to expect: India have played only one T20I in Lucknow previously, back in 2018 when Rohit scored an unbeaten 111 as the hosts defended 195 by restricting West Indies to 124. Lucknow was also the home venue for Afghanistan in 2019 when they won 2-1 in the T20Is against West Indies. In all the four matches at this venue, teams batting first have emerged victorious rather comfortably. Pleasant conditions, with a high of 25 degree Celsius, are forecast.

Head to head: India 14 - 7 Sri Lanka (One no result). At home, India have won 8 and lost 2 to Sri Lanka,

Team Watch:


Injured/Unavailable: A thumb injury to Suryakumar and Deepak Chahar's hamstring injury has left India now with a 16-member squad.

Tactics & Matchups: India had gone in with four pacers in the last game along with the all-round option of Venkatesh Iyer, who eventually had to bowl more overs to make up for Deepak Chahar's absence. Considering that he did a good job, India might consider giving him an extended role with the ball against Sri Lanka. Jadeja' availability adds depth to the batting order along with strengthening the spin department. Ruturaj Gaikwad partnered with Ishan Kishan at the opening position in the last game, with Shreyas Iyer batting at No. 3 and Rohit at 4. When asked if this will continue for a while, the skipper did not reveal his cards and just said that he wanted to stay in the present.

Probable XI:Ruturaj Gaikwad, Ishan Kishan (WK), Shreyas Iyer, Rohit Sharma (C), Sanju Samson, Venkatesh Iyer, Ravindra Jadeja, Harshal Patel, Ravi Bishnoi, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah

Sri Lanka:

Injured/Unavailable: A Rapid Antigen Test and a PCR test confirmed that Hasaranga still had traces of the virus, and he is currently in isolation in Australia and is unlikely to be part of the T20I series. Kusal Mendis and Maheesh Theekshana are doubtful as well for the opening game due to hamstring niggles.

Tactics & Matchups: While Sri Lanka employed pace options more than spin in Australia, the slower tracks are likely to bring the likes of Jeffrey Vandersay, Praveen Jayawickrama and Maheesh Theekshana (if available) more into play. Dushmantha Chameera and Lahiru Kumara are likely to man the pace department with Shanaka indicating that he will bowl when required.

Probable XI: Pathum Nissanka, Danushka Gunathilaka, Kamil Mishara (WK), Dinesh Chandimal, Charith Asalanka, Dasun Shanaka (C), Chamika Karunaratne, Jeffrey Vandersay, Praveen Jayawickrama, Dushmantha Chameera, Lahiru Kumara

What they said:

"His backfoot play is superb. Some of the shots you must have seen during the IPL - the pick-up pull, the cut shots, standing and delivering over the bowler's head - those kinds of shots are not easy to play. I believe when you go to Australia you need that kind of shot-making ability. Samson definitely has it in him. I just wish him the best and hope that he utilises potential to the maximum" - Rohit Sharma on Sanju Samson.

"The youngsters have been in the system for a while, they have performed in domestic cricket. It has become normal with the Covid situation. All the teams are facing it. Wanindu will be a weakness for us but we know that he will be back soon. Still, our squad is strong enough" - Dasun Shanaka on Wanindu Hasaranga's absence.

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