‘Last series in SL changed Test fortunes’ – Virat Kohli.
When India were last in Sri Lanka, they were a team in transition. They had a new captain and the scars of back-to-back series defeats away from home were still fairly fresh. “We still remember, for us a as a squad, after the tour of Australia in 2014-15, we found ourselves at No. 7 in the world and from then on the transformation started,” Virat Kohli said as he cast his mind back.
India began that series in promising fashion, taking a 192-run first-innings lead in Galle, and then had Sri Lanka teetering on 95 for 5 in the second innings. But they squandered that position of strength to eventually lose by 63 runs. Yet another tour was starting to follow a painfully familiar pattern for India.
Only they went to Colombo and won both matches there – even the decider on a fast-bowler friendly pitch to secure their first series in Sri Lanka in 22 years. After landing in the country on Thursday, Kohli said that victory had given the team “belief”. It taught them “how to come together as a team” and “within I think 12 or 15 months from Australia, we were the No. 1 side in the world, we’d just touched it, but from then on we have solidified it. But I still believe, and so do everyone in the team, that this [Sri Lanka] is where it started for us. That particular series, after losing that Test in Galle, which was quite a dent for us, the way the team came together, I think was iconic, as far as where we’ve come in the last two years has been concerned.”
Some of Kohli’s pride stemmed from the fact that India had beaten a well-drilled Sri Lankan side. “What we told our group was, ‘what matters is how much you believe more than the opposition’. You might have played 100 games, but if a guy who has played 10 games has more belief than you, then he’s going to end up doing better on the field’.”
The core of that 2015 squad has once again come to the island, for three Tests, five ODIs and and a T20I, but there are question marks hanging over some of them. M Vijay, originally picked among the touring party, was forced to withdraw after a recurrence of his wrist injury. As a result, India’s openers are likely to be two of Shikhar Dhawan, who has not played Tests since October 2016, KL Rahul, who has spent the best part of 2017 with a shoulder injury and Abhinav Mukund, who made 0 and 16 in his first Test in five years in March.
“Injuries are an unfortunate part of sport, any sport in the world,” Kohli said. “Vijay was back with his rehab, but he played a game and he felt he wasn’t up there and that’s credit to him for conveying it to the selectors and being honest in telling us that he wouldn’t be able to be match fit because there’s a lot riding on a Test match.
“Abhinav has done really well in domestic cricket. Shikhar, when he came here last time, he got a hundred as well. Then he had to miss a couple of games. [Cheteshwar] Pujara opened in the last Test in the last series that we played here. So guys have started seeing such scenarios as opportunities and not as pressure scenario because now they feel privileged and they want to have any opportunity to play for the country and everyone wants to make a mark. No one wants to sit on the sidelines and watch other people go on with their business. I’m sure these guys are hungry
“And Shikhar’s coming back as well after being left out of the Test squad. He’s done really well in the Champions Trophy, he’s batting beautifully. Abhinav is very solid in his technique and Rahul, obviously, has been a champion opener for us. So all these guys are coming back really hungry because we haven’t played any Test cricket after February.”
But rust is a thing in world cricket, so is switching formats – India have been playing ODI and T20 cricket for the past five months. India will have to overcome these complications quickly and one way to do so, according to Kohli, is to make sure a player trains rigorously in the lead-up to the first match.
“I feel you need to physically condition yourself before Test matches, and then as soon as the game starts, the mental preparation, whatever you’ve done, you can sit down and think about the game. You have to put in the hard yards, thinking if you have to bat for four sessions, five sessions, physically you have to be up there, because playing limited-overs cricket, that can drop down because the demands are not that high.
“Playing short-format cricket, you can still think about Test cricket, but you won’t prepare in that manner because you are not prepared to do so because you don’t have to do so much work. But in Test matches, it’s a different ball game altogether, the way you eat, the way you hydrate, most importantly, the way you practice.
“As a professional cricketer, you have to jump from format to format. But I’m sure the guys who’ve only played Test cricket till February, and who haven’t had so much cricket after that, I’m sure they’ve had long sessions back home. Pujara has played some [county] games, all these guys have been batting for a while, training hard as well. So once the game starts, the groove kicks back in. You just need the game to start and everything falls into place.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.