Expect a tough battle between Tillakaratne Dilshan and Mitchell Starc  © AFP
Expect a tough battle between Tillakaratne Dilshan and Mitchell Starc © AFP

An embarrassing Test series loss, at the hands of a young experienced team, that used conditions offered to its fullest, didn’t stop Australia from overturning fortunes in their ever-so-favourite format, the ODIs, against Sri Lanka. A 1-4 loss, for the home team, looked inevitable with the kind of batting display that they put on show. David Warner’s men on the contrary, did what they do best: dominate. They will now, approach two T20Is, a format in which they have struggled to make their name and earn pride. Dinesh Chandimal’s young guns though, will begin afresh too. With the first T20I at Pallekele, its almost certain that an encounter between blue and yellow brigades, will yield a classic contest of bat and ball. Full Cricket  Scorecard, Sri Lanka Vs Australia, 1st T20I match

Australia’s inconsisteny in the T20 format has been for all to see. Their early exit from the T20 World Cup 2016, was just another instance when a side, known to excel and dominate, could not even progress to the knock-out phases of the tournament. While Virat Kohli’s brilliance was a prime reason in them, getting knocked-out, thewy have a chance to begin afresh and gradually become a better T20 side.

While Sri Lanka, on the other hand, after the departure of legends like Kumar Sanagakkara and Mahela Jayawardena, have no option but to rely on newcomers who now have to step up and take the burden of taking Sri Lankan cricket forward, on their shoulders. They made australia dance to their tunes in the three Tests, they could not do the same in the One-Dayers, but now as they approach the T20Is, they will want to come out on top.

With that said, its not only about team performances, its about individual performances. Whichever team’s players can make use of conditions well and relish the challenge in front of them, that team will give themselves a big chance to win the series. Here are some key clashes/encounters that you might see in the match.

Tillakaratne Dilshan vs Mitchell Starc: In what will be Dilshan’s last series, the attention will no doubt be on him, and whether his bat can do the talking or not. Dilshan has collected 1,884 runs so far in 78 T20Is for Sri Lanka at an average of 28.98. But more than his stats, its the way Dilshan plays that might worry Australian bowlers. Nevertheless, Australia have their own weapon to take care of Dilshan’s aggressive approach. READ: Sri Lanka vs Australia, 1st T20, Preview & Predictions: Hosts look for comeback in Tillakaratne Dilshan’s final series

Mitchell Starc has been Australia’s best bowler so far on the tour. He has been accurate, sharp and also emerged as the highest wicket-taker in the ODI series. Sri Lanka are wary of his strengths. But he will still be a threat to the top-order because of knack of picking early wickets. Therefore, an exciting faceoff awaits. READ: Sri Lanka vs Australia, 1st T20I: Lankan’s likely XI

Glenn Maxwell vs Critics: Glenn Maxwell’s dry run in ODIs, led to his axing from the Australian ODI squad to Sri Lanka. He now, returns to the T20 squad, with a chance to prove naysayers wrong. He has a record of 611 runs in 34 T20Is for Australia at an average of 22.62. He can surely improve on that and make sure that at least his place in the T20 squad, is permanent. Maxwell, though will have to learn not to give it away. He gets a bit restless at the crase, as we have seen earlier, and tends to throw his wicket away. He will have to show that he has become a matured T20 batsman.

George Bailey vs Sri Lanka’s spin: Bailey, was the roadblock between Sri Lanka and victory in the ODI series. If not for Bailey, Australia would have been struggling to win the ODI series as well. It was Bailey’s ability to play spin in the best possible manner, using his feet, rotating the strike, putting pressure on the bowlers that kept the Lankan spinner at bay. He was also the highest run-getter in the ODI series. And now that he has been named in the squad for the first T20I, Sri Lanka will have to find ways of getting him back to the dug-out cheaply. Because if Bailey starts manoeuvring the field off the spinners, then it will be very difficult for the hosts to stop the run-flow.

Kusal Mendis & Dinesh Chandimal vs Australia’s bowlers: In the absence of Angelo Mathews, Chandimal will be leading the Lankans. And being among the most prolific run-getters of the squad, means he, along with Mendis will have the responsibility of scoring the majority of runs for the team. Mendis, had been excellent in the Test series. He continued to shine in the ODI series as well, scoring 174 runs in five ODIs. Sri Lanka will rely on him for those valuable runs. Chandimal too was in sublime form in the ODI series. With an added responsibility on his shoulders now, it will be interesting to see if he can deliver to the best of his potentials or not. The Australian bowlers though, won’t make it easy for them. The likes of James Faulkner, Starc and even leg-spinner Adam Zampa are all clever bowlers.

Dhananjaya de Silva vs Birthday heebie-jeebies: Born September 6, 1991, Dhananjaya de Silva, Sri Lanka’s all-rounder turns 25 today. While he didn’t have a particularly good ODI series against Australia, he has looked promising for the future. He made his mark in the Test series has well. But when he gets on to the pitch today, he will definitely be a little nervous. It will be worth watching if he can turn that into a valuable contribution or not. But if he shines, and takes Sri Lanka to win, he would have given his country a gift on his own birthday. A return gift of sorts.

(Karan Dewana reporter with CricketCountry, loves following and playing sports. He is a Team India fan and loves winning. Follow him on his twitter handle @karan13dewan)