The last match that India played without both Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami in their ODI playing XI was against Australia in October 2018, 43 matches ago. The last time India played an entire ODI series without the two stalwarts was in April 2013, nine years ago against Bangladesh in Ahmedabad. While Mithali has of course retired, there is no clarity yet on what the immediate future holds for Jhulan. But it is fair to say the ODI series against Sri Lanka in Pallekele will mark a new era for India.

At the front and center, of course, is Harmanpreet Kaur – the full-time white-ball captain of India going forward and it is a role that she relishes. Leadership and high pressure situations seem to bring the best out of the fighter that she is and she will be keen to get going with a win in the series as India step into the future.

“When I’m leading, I feel I am more involved in the game,” Harmanpreet told media ahead of the opening match on Friday.

“It always gives me a lot of confidence. Captaincy is something that comes naturally to me when I’m on the field. Over time, when you have a lot of years of leading [the team], things get easier. Right now, I don’t feel extra pressure on me.

“If I enjoy as captain, the rest of the group will also feel they can enjoy the moment. That’s what I’ve been discussing in team meetings. I feel I’m free to do what I want to do now. When you give players the freedom, you can improve more. That is my motive, to give the players freedom to express themselves.”

Harmanpreet, very much the fulcrum of the team in shortest format already for a while, led her side to a T20I series win 2-1, and looked in good batting touch herself. While coach Ramesh Powar spoke about the habit of winning being a key takeaway from the series, the performances were less than ideal.

“Honestly, the wickets were slow, so we were not expecting too many high-scoring games, but the way Harman, Shafali, Jemimah and Smriti batted, we are on the right track as far as batting is concerned,” Powar said at the press conference after T20Is.

Of course, Jemimah Rodrigues – for reasons only the selectors know – is not part of the ODI squad still. With no Mithali either, plenty of responsibility will be on Harmanpreet and deputy Smriti Mandhana. The captain and coach spoke about upping the scoring rates and 300 being a target they will aim for regularly in the formats but the pitches would have to help with that.

The batters struggled on the slow track at Dambulla, unable to breach the 140-run mark in all three T20Is, whether Pallekele is better remains to be seen.

The likes of Yastika Bhatia, Richa Ghosh and Harleen Deol will have to step up big time in the middle order which has been a concern area for India.

Bowling, however, is where perhaps the bigger worries must be for the think-tank. The lack of experience in the pace attack came back to bite them at the World Cup as Jhulan had to sit out the South Africa match. Now is the time for the relatively inexperienced fast bowling unit comprising Pooja Vastrakar, Simran Bahadur, Meghna Singh and Renuka Singh to show that they are capable of stepping up.

Deepti Sharma, Poonam Yadav and Rajeshwari Gayakwad will still be required to do the heavy-lifting in terms of wicket-taking.

Not for the first time too, Harmanpreet spoke about improving fitness and consequentially fielding, which has remained an area of concern for a while now.

Sri Lanka lost the ODI series against Pakistan earlier this month, but showed during the T20Is that they can be a handful in their own backyard. Chamari Athapaththu and Co would be hoping to avoid a second consecutive series loss in the format.


India: Harmanpreet Kaur (C), Smriti Mandhana (VC), Shafali Verma, Yastika Bhatia (wk), S Meghana, Deepti Sharma, Poonam Yadav, Rajeshwari Gayakwad, Simran Bahadur, Richa Ghosh (wk), Pooja Vastrakar, Meghna Singh, Renuka Singh, Taniya Bhatia (wk), Harleen Deol.

Sri Lanka: Chamari Athapaththu (c), Nilakshi de Silva, Kavisha Dilhari, Vishmi Gunaratne, Ama Kanchana, Hansima Karunaratne, Achini Kulasuriya, Sugandika Kumari, Harshitha Samarawickrama, Hasini Perera, Udeshika Prabodhani, Oshadi Ranasinghe Inoka Ranaweera, Sathya Sandeepani, Anushka Sanjeewani, Malsha Shehani,Tharika Sewwandi.

Match starts 10am IST.

Watch Harmanpreet Kaur’s press conference here.