Time to deliver for Kohli’s men

Following K.L. Rahul’s indisposition with viral fever, India is likely to field Shikhar Dhawan and Abhinav Mukund as openers. At least, that’s the impression Kohli gave in his pre-match press conference.

Virat Kohli (centre), Ajinkya Rahane (R) and Abhinav Mukund during a practice session in Galle on Tuesday.   -  AFP

 

Fringed by a fort with a history of over 400 years, topped with a stately clock tower and the Indian Ocean a few yards away, the Galle International Stadium is a picture-postcard venue. The setting, a medley of hoary history, rugged aesthetics and pastoral air, is ideal for both holidaying and the most ancient of cricketing formats – Tests.

Beneath its staggering beauty, the ground also suffered a tale of despair that eventually gave rise to hope. The 2004 Tsunami nearly destroyed the turf before a revival was shaped. That there is always a way forward, is a lesson which will not be lost on India and Sri Lanka as the teams gear up for the first Test of a three-match series, commencing here on Wednesday.

 

India, the numero uno, is slowly attempting a closure to the unsavoury manner in which the head-coach’s position was dealt with over the past month. Sri Lanka, meanwhile, is coping with transition and to make it worse, its recent skipper Angelo Mathews relinquished the position and his replacement in the hot-seat Dinesh Chandimal, recovering from pneumonia, will miss this Test.

After a summer dedicated to limited overs cricket, the visitor needs to start its comeback to Tests on a promising note and the laurels of the last season can be relegated to nostalgia. The host, ranked seventh, and under the leadership of Rangana Herath, has to rediscover the mettle it displayed in the days of Muttiah Muralitharan, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Lasith Malinga. If India needs to show that there are no remnants of bad blood in the change room, Sri Lanka has to stir awake its dormant potential. This is the beguiling context for the series.

 

Following K.L. Rahul’s indisposition with viral fever, India is likely to field Shikhar Dhawan and Abhinav Mukund as openers. At least, that’s the impression Kohli gave in his pre-match press conference. If indeed the southpaws strike a tandem, Cheteshwar Pujara, Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane will step in the subsequent slots and that begs the question – will the Indian skipper field Rohit Sharma and abandon his five-batsmen theory? Kohli dropped a hint about that too, stating that in the last Test that the two rivals played here in 2015, India was a batsman short.

Incidentally it was a match in which Kohli’s men messed up a 176-run-chase and were bowled out for 112 with Herath’s left-arm spin yielding a seven for 48. To queer the pitch, Kohli also spoke about the batting value that all-rounder Hardik Pandya offers. It could well be a toss-up between Rohit and Hardik. The bowling will rest probably on Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, R. Ashwin, playing his 50th Test, and Ravindra Jadeja.

The surface, once a mighty ally of Muralitharan, has a mild tinge of grass and is expected to gradually aid spin. Sri Lanka has recalled seamer Nuwan Pradeep and in skipper Herath, has a persevering practitioner of spin. A decision has to be made about who will step into Chandimal’s shoes and the choice is between Danushka Gunethilaka, and Dhananjaya de Silva.

Warm coastal weather and clear skies greeted the teams here at training on Tuesday. India fielded only its batsmen at nets while the bowlers rested. The odd spell of rain has been forecast. The teams, though, cannot afford to be as fickle as the weather. Sri Lanka has a 3-1 record against India at this venue but for Kohli’s men, what followed after its loss here in 2015 offers a positive clue. India won that series 2-1. The motto will be to do one better.

OPTA STATS

India has gone three Test series unbeaten against Sri Lanka (W2 D1); including a series victory in its most recent tour to Sri Lanka in 2015.

o India has only lost one Test in its last five versus Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka (W3 D1); winning its last two encounters there.

o The host do have a solid record against India in Galle however, beating the tourist three times in four previous meetings in Test cricket there.

o Ravichandran Ashwin is set to make his 50th Test appearance in this match; he’s taken 275 wickets at an average of 25.2 so far.

o Rangana Herath needs seven wickets to become only the second bowler to take 100 Test wickets at Galle International Stadium (Muralitharan - 111); he’s averaged almost nine wickets per game across his four Tests as captain to date.

The teams (from):

Sri Lanka: Rangana Herath (captain), Upul Tharanga, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Asela Gunaratne, Niroshan Dickwella (wicket-keeper), Dhananjaya de Silva, Danushka Gunathilaka, Dilruwan Perera, Suranga Lakmal, Lahiru Kumara, Vishwa Fernando, Malinda Pushpakumara and Nuwan Pradeep.

India: Virat Kohli (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Abhinav Mukund, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, R. Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Hardik Pandya, Wriddhiman Saha (wicket-keeper), Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Kuldeep Yadav and K.L. Rahul.

Umpires: Bruce Oxenford and Richard Illingworth; Third umpire: Rod Tucker; Match referee: Richie Richardson.

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