Suresh Raina has wanted to bat at No.3 for India for a long time now. So, when Virat Kohli was rested for this three-match T20 series against Sri Lanka, starting on Tuesday in Pune, it seemed like the best possible opportunity to finally give the left-hander the position he craves the most. Well, not quite.
Kohli will be back in the team for the Asia Cup T20 and then the more important World T20, and with the right-hander set to bat at No.3 – there are absolutely no arguments there – the India skipper MS Dhoni feels it will be better if Raina continues in the No.4 position.
Changing around the batting order for just one series does not make much sense, and Dhoni, rightly, feels keeping the left-hander in the position he is likely to bat in during the World T20 is the right way to go.
"I think it will be slightly better if Raina bats at the position that he will most likely bat in the World Cup," Dhoni was quoted as saying by ESPNCricinfo. "It will give him that exposure.
"Also we are not a team that plays a lot of T20Is. Usually we play one game in a bilateral series. So this gives him an opportunity to expose him to No. 4 for a consistent period of time.
"The opportunity is there to make him bat at three and use some other batters [at No.4] but I think it will be more appropriate if he bats at No. 4 and gets adjusted."
Raina did a good job in that position for India in the T20 series against Australia last month, and it makes complete sense to keep the left-hander in that position and give someone like an Ajinkya Rahane an opportunity at No.3. Rahane did not get a chance to play any of the T20 matches against Australia, partly due to injury and partly due to the team doing so well, but with Kohli missing from the lineup, this will be the right-hander's opportunity to show he can play just as well in the shortest format of the game.
The other option is Manish Pandey – Yuvraj Singh, like Raina, is expected to stay in his No.5-No.6 position – who was extremely unlucky to be left out of the World T20 squad. Pandey, the last time he played in India colours, scored a match-winning, unbeaten hundred, and the right-hander certainly deserves more playing time.
India do not have too many other selection headaches, and barring an injury or the need to give someone a rest, the team should be the same as the one that comprehensively beat Australia. Dhoni, though, is mindful of overplaying his players, considering, pretty much, the same core will take the field for the entirety of the World T20 as well.
"Winning games is important," Dhoni added. "But at the same time what will be more crucial is, we have to keep everyone fit.
"It's almost the same 15 that will play till the World T20. It's important to keep everyone fit so that the best XI is always available for selection. That will be the key factor."
If Dhoni does decide to make changes, Pawan Negi could come in for a debut, while Harbhajan Singh will also be itching for an opportunity, after sitting on the bench for the entire Australia series.
Sri Lanka, who have already brought in a depleted squad for this T20 series, with Angelo Mathews, Lasith Malinga and Ranagana Herath all missing, have to decide on who will take the place of Tillakaratne Dilshan at the top of the order, after it was confirmed the veteran would miss the 1st T20 in Pune through injury. Niroshan Dickwella, after showing good form in domestic cricket, was called up as cover and might make his debut.
What will also be interesting is watching how Dilhara Fernando does on his comeback at the age of 36. Ashish Nehra, who recently got a similar callup, did pretty well, and Sri Lanka will hope Fernando also has a similar, if not better, impact.
Expected lineups: India: Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni (C), Yuvraj Singh, Ravindra Jadeja, Hardik Pandya, R Ashwin, Jasprit Bumrah, Ashish Nehra.
Sri Lanka: Danushka Gunathilaka, Niroshan Dickwella, Dinesh Chandimal (C), Milinda Siriwardana, Chamara Kapugedera, Thisara Perera, Seekkuge Prasanna, Sachitra Senanayake, Shaminda Eranga, Dilhara Fernando.