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India v Sri Lanka: India return to place where journey to glory began

CricketIndia v Sri Lanka: India return to place where journey to glory began

GALLE: India will look to extend their domination in Tests when they take on a jaded Sri Lanka in the first game of a three-match series starting Wednesday, back to a place where they were humiliated before soaring to world No 1.

Virat Kohli and Co would be keen to avenge their embarrassing loss at the Galle International Stadium in 2015 when they crashed to an embarrassing loss on day four after being bowled out for 112 while chasing 176.

Virat Kohli Captain of India and team player walk bach after the finsh day 4 of the first test match between India and New Zealand held at the Green Park stadium on the 25th September 2016. Photo by: Deepak Malik/ BCCI/ SPORTZPICS
Virat Kohli Captain of India and team player walk bach after the finsh day 4 of the first test match between India and New Zealand held at the Green Park stadium on the 25th September 2016.
Photo by: Deepak Malik/ BCCI/ SPORTZPICS

A lot has changed since then as a young and aggressive Kohli has turned into a mature captain, who has led the side to 12 wins out of 17 Tests against West Indies, New Zealand, England, Bangladesh and Australia in 2016-17 season.

The Indian team will be looking to take that confidence into this three-match series, which heralds the onset of a new season, and more importantly, another overseas cycle.

It also marks the second coming of Ravi Shastri at the helm of affairs. The team has been on-tour for five days now, and collectively they seem to have put the entire saga of Anil Kumble’s premature departure as well as the dramatic coach-selection process behind them.

With Shastri back in charge, along with Bharat Arun guiding the bowlers, there is atleast a familiarity about the team’s setting. It is perhaps the only positive aspect of this lengthy, at times distasteful, saga.

In that light, Shastri will also be wary about what playing at Galle entails for visiting teams.

It was the ‘team director’ who had roused his hurting troops before the second Test in Colombo, and it worked just fine as India rallied from 1-0 down to take the series 2-1.

It was the first taste of victory away from home for this young team, as also a welcome change in results after successive losses experienced in South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia previously.

As such, that series win not only marked the culmination of a learning process but also laid down the path for an impressive record in the next two years.

Combining the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, India have lost only one out of 23 Tests (against Australia at Pune) since that defeat in Galle.

This superlative run has bred certain all-round consistency within the squad, starting from the top of its batting line-up until the very end. So much so that the bench strength is replete with ready-made options.

It is the reason why the team management is not utterly worried even as KL Rahul has been ruled out of the first Test owing to viral fever.

The Karnataka-opener was just returning to the international arena after recuperating from a shoulder injury that kept him out of action since March, when he was laid low again after the two-day practice match in Colombo.

It means skipper Virat Kohli will have to go in with Shikhar Dhawan and Abhinav Mukund as first-choice openers. Before the tour began, the two batsmen were competing for one spot.

Dhawan had been relegated from first-choice to third-choice option after the West Indies series last year and then was dropped for the Australia series.

Mukund played in the Bangalore Test against Australia but scored only 16 runs in two innings, so this is another welcome chance for him to impress again.

Beyond the opening slots, the rest of the batting order – from Cheteshwar Pujara, Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane – picks itself. Two years ago, India made the mistake of playing five bowlers here and paid dearly as the shortened line-up was unable to handle Rangana Herath in the fourth innings.

It remains to be seen if Kohli is willing to take a similar gamble again, and if not, Rohit Sharma is expected to return to the Test line-up for the first time since he last played against New Zealand in Indore.

While R Ashwin is set to play his 50th Test, the composition of India’s attack will be a matter of debate right until toss time. If Kohli does pick five bowlers, there is no doubt he will go in with an extra spinner in Kuldeep Yadav.

Even so, which two pacers will he opt for? In the first half of the home season, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav were the preferred pairing, with Ishant Sharma benched and Bhuvneshwar Kumar made to wait for optimal conditions.

The hosts have been set back with their own set of problems. They are still undergoing a tough transitional phase, with Graham Ford stepping down as coach and Nic Pothas asked to perform interim duties.

In order to boost their support staff, Chaminda Vaas and Hashan Tilakratne have come on-board as bowling and batting consultants, respectively.

Meanwhile, new Test skipper Dinesh Chandimal will be unavailable owing to pneumonia. In his absence, Herath will lead Sri Lanka leaving Angelo Mathews to concentrate on his game.

The left-arm spinner took 11 wickets in the one-off Test against Zimbabwe, and will be an ever-present factor in this series against India as well.

Lanka will also be bolstered by the return of pacer Nuwan Pradeep, who last played Test cricket against South Africa in January.

Dhananjaya de Silva has been called up as Chandimal’s replacement, but it is the inclusion of left-arm spinner Malinda Pushpakumara that will excite the hosts.

The 30-year-old is yet to make his Test debut, but he boasts of 558 wickets in 99 First-Class matches, making him an ideal foil for Herath.

India: Virat Kohli (c), Shikhar Dhawan, Lokesh Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Kuldeep Yadav, Abhinav Mukund.
Sri Lanka: Rangana Herath (c), Upul Tharanga, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Asela Gunaratne, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Dhananjaya de Silva, Danushka Gunathilaka, Dilruwan Perera, Suranga Lakmal, Lahiru Kumara, Vishwa Fernando, Malinda Pushpakumara, Nuwan Pradeep.

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