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India v Sri Lanka 3rd T20 Match preview: Lankan skipper aiming for more heroics in decider

Sri Lanka's 16-run win over India on Thursday has set up a decisive third Twenty20 international in Rajkot on Saturday.

The underdogs, beaten by two runs in the opening game in Mumbai, took full advantage of the short boundaries in Pune to rack up 206-6 and that target proved out of reach for India despite a sparkling innings of 65 off 31 balls from all-rounder Axar Patel.

WhatIndia v Sri Lanka, 3rd Twenty20 Match
WhereSaurashtra Cricket Association Stadium, Rajkot, India
When13:30, Saturday 7th January
How to watchLive on ESPN Player
OddsIndia 2/5, Sri Lanka 2/1

Six-hitting Shanaka relishes the big occasion

Sri Lanka are 2/1 to win Saturday's third Twenty20 international, which would seal a 2-1 series victory, and they can take heart from their recent record against 2/5 hosts India.

The Lankans have won four of their last eight T20 meetings with their illustrious neighbours and captain Dusan Shanaka clearly relishes the chance to get one over the powerhouses of the cricketing world.

Shanaka was once again the inspiration for Sri Lanka's success on Thursday, coming in at number six to wallop an unbeaten 56 from just 22 balls. He then took responsibility to bowl the final over of India's innings, comfortably wrapping up the victory as he took two wickets and conceded only four runs.

The all-rounder had also starred in the first T20 at Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium, slamming a quickfire 45, which was the highest score of the game, and he was player of the match in last September's Asia Cup win over India in Dubai.

In February 2022, Shanaka scored 47 not out off 19 balls and 74 not out off 38 in back-to-back T20 clashes with India while in June he sealed a remarkable victory over Australia in Pallekele with an unbeaten 54 off 25 deliveries.

Shanaka is 7/1 to be Sri Lanka's Top Team Batter in Saturday's match and he should also be on punters' shortlists in a couple of other markets.

He is 12/1 to be Player of the Match, in a heat headed by brilliant India batsman Suryakumar Yadav at 15/4.

Since the start of 2022, the Sri Lankan skipper has struck 33 sixes in 26 T20 international innings, having managed 33 maximums in 53 knocks before then, and he is 15/2 to be the Player to Score Most Match 6s on Saturday.

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More discipline required from Indian fast bowlers

India captain Hardik Pandya has a relatively inexperienced fast-bowling attack at his disposal for this series and that hurt the favourites in the second T20 in Pune.

They bowled seven no-balls in Sri Lanka's innings and those errors, along with the subsequent free-hits, cost India 27 runs in a match that they lost by 16 runs. 

Even that doesn't tell the whole story as Arshdeep Singh had Shanaka caught off one of his five no-balls and the Sri Lanka captain added 26 runs off eight deliveries after his reprieve.

Arshdeep is 9/2 to make amends by being the Top Match Bowler in the series decider while India's quickest bowler Umran Malik is 11/2.

Malik, a breakout star of the 2022 Indian Premier League with Sunrisers Hyderabad, showcased his devastating potential by taking three wickets, two of them clean bowled, in his first three overs on Thursday but he leaked 21 runs in a wayward final stanza.

All-rounder Axar could have a big impact in series finale

India have won three of their four T20 internationals at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Rajkot including a comprehensive 82-run victory over South Africa, who were bowled out for 87 last June.

Spinner Patel took the final wicket in that rout and he produced a brilliant performance in a losing cause on Thursday, claiming 2-24 from four overs before crunching six sixes in a 31-ball 65.

Axar's bowling talent is no secret – he has taken 47 Test wickets at an average of 14.29 after all – but his limited-overs batting has developed spectacularly and he is proving a worthy understudy to injured all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja.

His maiden ODI half-century was an unbeaten knock of 64 off 35 balls against the West Indies in Port of Spain last July and he also made 31 not out off 20 in the first T20 against Sri Lanka.

India's top-order collapse on Thursday meant Axar came to the crease with almost 11 overs of the innings remaining. He is unlikely to get that kind of opportunity again in Rajkot but given his form he is well worth considering at 12/1 to be Player of the Match in the series decider.

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