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Shikhar Dhawan to lead India on limited-overs tour of Sri Lanka

Devdutt Padikkal, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Nitish Rana, K Gowtham and Chetan Sakariya have all received maiden call-ups to the national team, figuring in the 20-man India squad for the white-ball series in Sri Lanka, scheduled for July. The second-string squad – the main team will be in England at the time – will be captained by opening batter Shikhar Dhawan, who has never led India previously, and have fast bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar, as the vice-captain.

India’s Sri Lanka tour comprises six matches: three ODIs (on July 13, 16 and 18), followed by three T20Is (July 21, 23, 25). Former India captain Rahul Dravid has been confirmed as the head coach, although the BCCI did not announce the enitre roster of the support staff on Thursday when it made public details of the squad, which will have five reserve bowlers.

India will have to field a team in Sri Lanka shorn of its premier players because the main squad, captained by Virat Kohli, is currently in England getting ready for the inaugural World Test Championship final against New Zealand (June 18 onwards), which will be followed by a five-Test series against England, starting in August. That makes it the first instance of two Indian men’s teams operating simultaneously in bilateral series internationally.

It is no surprise that four of the five uncapped players – Gowtham the exception – to receive maiden call-ups have all made strong impressions in the last two seasons of the IPL. Padikkal and Gaikwad have been successful as openers at the Royal Challengers Bangalore and the Chennai Super Kings respectively, while Rana has been a regular in the top order at the Kolkata Knight Riders for a few seasons, and Sakariya has made an impressive start to his stint with the Rajasthan Royals in the truncated 2021 edition earlier this year.

Padikkal became the first Indian to hit four consecutive List A centuries, while opening for Karnataka during the Indian domestic Vijay Hazare 50-over tournament this year. Padikkal, who made his IPL debut with the Royal Challengers in IPL 2020, has 668 runs in 21 matches at an average of 33.40 and a strike rate of 131.75.

Gaikwad, who has a healthy average of 47.87 in List A cricket, has scored five half-centuries in 13 IPL matches. As for Rana, who has carved out a regular spot in the top order for the Knight Riders, he has 13 fifties in the IPL and a total of 1638 runs. He also has three centuries in List A cricket for Delhi in the domestic circuit.

The biggest surprise in the squad, though, is the inclusion of Sakariya. The left-arm fast bowler from Saurashtra was bought by the Royals in the auction before the 2021 IPL for INR 1.2 crore (USD 164,000 approx.), which proved to be an inspired investment. Sakariya, 23, has picked up seven wickets in seven IPL matches so far, and his victims include MS Dhoni, KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, and Rana.

The India call-up is bound to be a bittersweet moment for Sakariya, who lost his father to Covid-19 immediately after he returned home once the IPL had been suspended indefinitely in early May.

For 32-year-old Gowtham, too, the India call-up means a step up from the fringes. He was included as a reserve bowler during the four-match home Test series against England recently and, during that series, he captured the headlines when he became the most expensive uncapped Indian player in the IPL when the Super Kings paid INR 9.25 crore (US$ 1,273,000 approx.) for him, beating bids from the Sunrisers Hyderabad and the Knight Riders. In the 2020 IPL, too, Gowtham had bagged a massive sum from the Punjab Kings (then Kings XI Punjab), who released him after the season after fielding him in just two matches. Gowtham has 57 wickets in 35 List A matches for Karnataka and has a batting strike rate of 141.26 in List A and 159.24 in T20s respectively.

The Indian squad also features spinner Varun Chakravarthy, who has been picked for the third time by the selectors since the 2020 IPL. Chakravarthy, who plays for the Knight Riders, had been selected for the T20I series in Australia last year but did not travel because of a shoulder injury, and was again picked for the home T20I series against England earlier this year, but failed to clear the mandatory fitness test.

The pair of Shreyas Iyer and T Natarajan were not considered for selection as they are both still recovering from surgeries. Iyer had hurt his shoulder during the ODI series against England and had undergone surgery in April, which had ruled him out of the IPL. Natarajan, who made a fairy-tale debut in Australia in all three formats at the turn of the year, had to abandon the IPL to undergo knee surgery.

Squad: Shikhar Dhawan (capt), Bhuvneshwar Kumar (vice-capt), Prithvi Shaw, Devdutt Padikkal, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Suryakumar Yadav, Manish Pandey, Hardik Pandya, Nitish Rana, Ishan Kishan (wk), Sanju Samson (wk), Yuzvendra Chahal, Rahul Chahar, K Gowtham, Krunal Pandya, Kuldeep Yadav, Varun Chakravarthy, Deepak Chahar, Navdeep Saini, Chetan Sakariya

Net bowlers: Ishan Porel, Sandeep Warrier, Arshdeep Singh, R Sai Kishore, Simarjeet Singh

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