India begin the three-Test series against Sri Lanka in Galle today with a spring in their step. Virat Kohli’s side sits at the top of the ICC Test rankings with wins in their last seven series. Two out of the last three Test series wins were especially sweet for the Indians as England were blanked 4-0 at home and the Aussies were overpowered 2-1 after a heavy defeat in the first match.
However, it all concluded by March. Indian players then got busy with the IPL, lost the final of the Champions Trophy, won the ODI series in the Caribbean and lost a one-off T20 against the Windies. Then there was the drama surrounding the exit of Anil Kumble as head coach and return of Ravi Shastri as ‘friend and an elder buddy’ – as the BCCI stated in its press release.
The focus now shifts to the field. For India, it will be about second chances.
It is an opportunity for the Kohli-Shastri combination to get back together following the now seemingly unnecessary Anil Kumble stint, and mould the team the way they want to.
Let’s not forget, India’s rise to the No1 spot in Tests started in their last tour of Sri Lanka in 2015 when they rallied to win the series 2-1. It was the first series win for Kohli as captain and Shastri was in charge as team director.
Also, this a golden chance for a couple of Test hopefuls to have a go at the top of the order.
India’s regular Test openers Murali Vijay and KL Rahul are unavailable for the first Test. Vijay has not recovered completely from his wrist injury that had kept him out of action since the series against Australia in March. And Rahul has not recovered from a bout of fever. He too was making a comeback after a four-month injury (shoulder) lay off.
In their absence, Shikhar Dhawan and Abhinav Mukund will look to mark their territory in what has been a period a turmoil in Indian cricket, on and off the field.
When Rahul failed to regain fitness in time for the Champions Trophy, Dhawan stepped up and took the tournament by storm, scoring two fifties and one century in England.
Dhawan was named as replacement for Vijay after being initially overlooked for the Sri Lanka tour. With Rahul unavailable, Dhawan and Mukund can realistically look to make a long-lasting impact.
Both Rahul and Vijay have been away from the scene for a long time and all it takes is one brilliant series – like Dhawan had in the Champions Trophy – for the selectors and management to push the challengers up the pecking order.
Sri Lanka, on their part, are struggling to keep their head above water.
Angelo Mathews resigned as Test captain. His replacement Dinesh Chandimal has been ruled out of the first Test due to flu, which means the burden on spinner Rangana Herath will only increase as the stand-in captain is also the team’s main bowler.
Herath will turn 40 soon and one wonders what will happen to the struggling Sri Lankans once he leaves. But that’s a question for another day.
On paper, India are fitter and more balanced than Sri Lanka with a much better record in recent Tests; Sri Lanka lost to Bangladesh in March and had to fight tooth and nail to defeat Zimbabwe this month.
But nothing is easy in Test cricket and for India, the leadership and opening combinations will be eager to prove a point or two.