India look to make fresh start against Sri Lanka with player fitness in focus

Hardik Pandya to captain team in T20 series that begins in Mumbai on Tuesday

Hardik Pandya will lead India's team during the T20 series against Sri Lanka. AFP
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The Indian team begin the 2023 campaign on Tuesday with a fresh template and set of players, hoping to erase painful memories of the previous year that was plagued by inconsistent form and poor fitness.

India face Sri Lanka in a three-match T20 series that begins in Mumbai on Tuesday. By the looks of it, India have learnt their lesson from the T20 World Cup disappointment and selected a number of specialists for the format.

Regular captain Rohit Sharma is unavailable due to injury while veteran batsman Virat Kohli and KL Rahul have not been selected. That has resulted in all-rounder Hardik Pandya being named captain for the T20 series, which is also being seen as the beginning of a more permanent shift in India's T20 leadership.

The Indian team was criticised for its archaic approach to T20 cricket during the recent World Cup in Australia, losing to eventual champions England by 10 wickets in the semi-final. The playing XI for that semi-final resembled India's first-choice Test team, which did not go unnoticed. The selectors have therefore made quick changes for the next assignment against Asia Cup champions Sri Lanka.

Seamer Bhuvneshwar Kumar and wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant, who later got hurt in an accident, were not included in the squad while T20 specialist batsmen like Ishan Kishan, Sanju Samson and Rahul Tripathi have been included. Seamer Shivam Mavi, who impressed in IPL and domestic T20 cricket, has been handed his first India chance, highlighting the team's focus on format-specific players.

Pandya has emerged as the next captain of the Indian team following Sharma's alarming dip in form and results. The all-rounder clinched the IPL 2022 title in his first stint as Gujarat Titans captain, and has since led the national team from time to time.

One of the major areas of focus for India this year will be the fitness of the players. Throughout 2022, players declared fit broke down once they joined the team, raising questions about the accuracy of the fitness tests and workload of players.

Last month, following India's ODI series defeat in Bangladesh, captain Sharma had raised concerns over players pulling up injured repeatedly despite being passed fit. Deepak Chahar was injured for most of 2022, while Jasprit Bumrah (stress fracture on his back) and Ravindra Jadeja (ankle) are recovering from injuries.

The Indian cricket board recently announced plans to streamline the process so that only fully fit players are selected for the team. The BCCI announced that the National Cricket Academy will work with IPL franchises to monitor the fitness levels of national players.

The Yo-Yo and Dexa scan, which measures bone density, fat levels and muscle mass, have been added to selection parameters.

The Indians will have their work cut out against Sri Lanka, who put in one of the performances of the year in the UAE as they crushed favourites Pakistan in the T20 Asia Cup final in Dubai. Sri Lanka announced a 20-man squad for the tour with all-rounder and Asia Cup-winning skipper Dasun Shanaka leading the visitors in both formats.

The three-match ODI series starts on January 10.

Updated: January 02, 2023, 12:35 PM