India vs Sri Lanka: Kumar Sangakkara's farewell series brings new challenges for Virat Kohli
Team India is set to kick off its new season with the tour of Sri Lanka. The three-match Test series is the first full-fledged assignment for Test skipper Virat Kohli.
After taking charge from ‘captain cool’ MS Dhoni, sojourn to the island will be a real test for the young and dynamic Kohli as Team India ushers in a new era.
The 26-year-old from Delhi was always a frontrunner to take over from Dhoni. Now that he is in command, all eyes would be on him. His each move, be it on or off the field, will be scrutinized.
The best part about the new Indian skipper is that he loves to take challenges. When India toured Australia at the end of last year, Kohli gave a glimpse of it while leading the side in the 1st, 4th and the final Test at Sydney, after Dhoni announced his unexpected retirement in between the series. In fact, he led from the front and proved once again that his game flourishes under pressure.
However, here we need to understand that it’s not just about Kohli. It’s not even about an individual or his form. It’s about leading a Test side. It’s about building a team. It’s about showing confidence and trusting your teammates. It’s about taking criticism positively. It’s about being politically correct when the entire world is watching you and ready to criticize your one bad move. One should know how to deal with those ever growing sentiments and expectations of the nation. Simply put, leading the Indian cricket team is probably one of the most difficult jobs in the world.
Let’s put the flashlight back on Kohli.
Even though Dhoni and Kohli come from different backgrounds all-together, they share a couple of things in common. Both have guts and a clear mind to back themselves and their decisions. And it would certainly help Kohli in future, especially while taking big on-field decisions.
As India is set to play in Sri Lanka, the incumbent skipper has a lot of puzzles to solve and a lot to ponder over ahead of the series.
Problem of plenty
In the upcoming series, Kohli has to take few vital decisions as far as the Indian opening pair is concerned. India have a ‘problem of plenty’ up top. Opener Murali Vijay has cemented his place with his consistent performances in recent years. But there is a stiff fight between Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul for position of the other opener. To choose one out of the two would be a tricky challenge for the less experienced skipper. However, he has said that he would make his decision keeping their current forms in mind. But it’s not at all an easy decision to make. While Vijay's absence from the first Test due to injury will give both Dhawan and Rahul a chance to prove their mettle again, Kohli's decision-making skills would be tested for the second Test if both these openers perform well at Galle.
Middle order's batting woes
Skipper Kohli has another riddle to solve when it comes to India's middle-order. Cheteshwar Pujara, touted as the next ‘Wall’, is struggling to cement his place in the side. On the other hand, despite having the potential and an outstanding start to his Test career, Rohit Sharma too hasn't justified his place in the traditional format. The crucial number three position is still an unresolved issue in this team. Rohit and Cheteshwar are the two contenders fighting for it. However, Kohli has hinted that he is in favour of Rohit playing one-down. It's going to be another critical decision considering the importance of that position in the game's longer format.
Backbone of Indian batting line-up, Kohli is himself out of sorts. His consistency with the willow has gone for a toss. Even in the practice match, ahead of the Test series, he looked off-colour. So, the skipper would certainly be under a bit of pressure to perform and gain his confidence back.
As far as Test cricket is concerned, wicket-keeper batsman Wriddhiman Saha is quite inexperienced. And to expect too much from the Bengal cricketer wouldn’t be right as it’s going to be his first big Test series.
Ajinkya Rahane is the only bright star, who is in form and has managed to prove his mettle. His ton in the warm-up game will hold him in good stead when the Test series begins on August 12.
In the absence of Mohammed Shami, who is nursing an injury, Indian pace attack is looking quite vulnerable.
Despite having a bunch of other options in Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron and Ishant Sharma, their pedigree to win Tests on Lankan soil remains questionable considering past inconsistencies and injury troubles.
Ishant undoubtedly performed brilliantly in the practice match against SL Board President's XI but after seeing his track record, it’s difficult to expect any kind of consistency from the lanky speedster.
The experienced spin trio of Harbhajan Singh, Ravichandran Ashwin and Amit Mishra will be India's major weapon while playing in the Island. Kohli's backing of a 'five-bowler strategy' is something which could give all three tweakers a chance to add plenty of wickets to their resumes. However, the move will certainly put some extra burden on Indian batsmen.
The Tests will be quite significant and emotional for the hosts as it marks the end of an era in Sri Lankan cricket with the retirement of Sangakkara, who will hang his boots after the second match. Angelo Mathews & Co would try to make the swansong a memorable one by winning the trophy for their great ambassador.
Amid all the challenges, skipper Kohli can take heart from the fact that his first assignment is in a sub-continent, where there should be no issues as far as acclimatising is concerned. Since India will be hosting South Africa in what would be a very long tour later this year, it's pivotal for Kohli to win the series and grab the momentum going forward.