Formidable India fancy chances against Sri Lanka in first Test
Galle: After a dominating end to the home Test season that included series wins against New Zealand, England, Bangladesh and Australia, India are all set to start afresh under new coach Ravi Shastri, when they take on Sri Lanka in the three-Test series here.
Going into the first Test of the series on Wednesday, the Virat Kohli-led side will have in their mind their previous tour to the island nation in 2015, when they bounced back from a 0-1 deficit to a 2-1 win and gradually ascend to the top of the ICC Test rankings.
The Galle International Stadium hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for the Indians, having managed a single win, way back in 2008 and thereafter losing three on the trot.
In 2015, India succumbed to a 63-run loss on the penultimate day, thanks to a magical seven-wicket haul by veteran left-arm spinner Rangana Herath, who will be leading the side in the first Test in the absence of newly-appointed skipper Dinesh Chandimal, down with pneumonia.
But the young Indian side bounced back well to win the next two matches in Colombo, and claim the series 2-1.
The only factor common between the series then and now is the presence of former India all-rounder Shastri. He was then Team Director then and now is the newly-appointed coach with his own set of support staff, that includes Bharat Arun’s return as the bowling coach.
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.
Heading in to the game, India’s only headache is the loss of opener Lokesh Rahul, who was down with viral fever and ruled out of the first Test.
In such a case, Abhinav Mukund and Shikhar Dhawan are most likely to open the innings unless Kohli and the team management promote Cheteshwar Pujara as the opener.
The middle order looks more or less a settled unit with Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and stumper Wriddhiman Saha, while Rohit Sharma looks set to be back to the playing XI.
The bowling department will have the world class spin twins of Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin, who will be playing his 50th Test. Besides that, if Kohli decides to go with five bowlers, there is no doubt he will go in with an extra spinner in chinaman Kuldeep Yadav.
Kohli has enough options from his pace bowling department, which includes the likes of Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, with Hardik Pandya providing him the extra all-round option.
On the other hand, the hosts are in a transitional phase after the retirements of stalwarts Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.
There has also been a change to their support staff after Graham Ford stepped down and was replaced by fielding coach Nic Pothas on an interim basis.
For the Tests against India, the Sri Lankans have former cricketers Chaminda Vaas and Hashan Tillakaratne as bowling and batting coaches respectively.
With Chandimal ruled out of the first game, the onus will be on the young guns to take up the challenge against a formidable Indian team.