In their previous tour, India created history by winning a Test series in Sri Lanka after a span of 22 years. This time, India won the opening Test of a series in Sri Lanka for the first time since their maiden tour to the island nation back in 1985. As a captain, Virat Kohli’s tryst with Sri Lanka has been fantastic so far. It could become even more remarkable if he leads his team to a series win by clinching victory in the second Test, which is set to begin on Thursday.
In the first Test at Galle, the visitors dominated Sri Lanka in all departments of the game. Even the spin maestro Rangana Herath, who was also the stand-in-captain, failed to create any sort of problems to Indian batsmen. His first innings figures read 1/159 and he didn’t take any wickets in the second innings. One bad Test shouldn’t bring up talks about his retirement but surely a case can be made about increasing burdens on his shoulders.
On top of that, Herath also injured his finger during the Galle Test and his availability for the next Test is not confirmed yet.
When asked about the left-arm spinner's fitness, Asanka Gurusinha, Sri Lanka's cricket manager and selector said, "We have to see how he is going to come up in the next couple of days because his finger is pretty sore."
Maybe the above reasons culminated in Sri Lanka including an extra spinner for the Colombo Test. Left-arm wristspinner Lakshan Sandakan has been recalled into the squad and his chances to feature in the playing XI is on the higher side despite the Herath situation. If Herath is fit then Sri Lanka should ideally go with three spinners – Herath, Sandakan and Dilruwan Perera.
Off-spinner Perera was ordinary at Galle but he will keep his place in the XI thanks to the 92-run knock in the first innings.
Sri Lanka’s batting attack will get a big boost when their captain Dinesh Chandimal will return to the field on Thursday. The 27-year-old batsman will lead the side after missing the first Test due to a bout of pneumonia and the team would be looking at their skipper for some sort of inspiration. He had a brilliant series against India in 2015, where he averaged 57 in six innings.
It will be a tough task for Sri Lanka to beat the World No 1 Test side in Colombo after suffering a demoralising defeat at Galle. The key for them is taking all 20 Indian wickets and for that, they would need their spinners to up the ante.
For India, the biggest talking point will be about deciding on their opening pair. Shikhar Dhawan was not supposed to be in the squad in the first place but when he got the chance, he made sure he grabbed his opportunity with both hands. No captain would want to drop a batsman who played a 190-run knock in the previous Test.
Virat Kohli made it clear that KL Rahul, who missed the first Test due to illness, will definitely feature in the second Test so the most likely scenario would be Dhawan opening the batting with Rahul and Abhinav Mukund sitting out.
“KL Rahul has been our establish opener. One of the openers will have to make way for KL. What he has done in the past two years for us is very solid and he deserves to come back and start fresh in Test cricket,” Kohli told reporters on Wednesday.
It will be interesting to see if spinner Kuldeep Yadav makes the cut for the second Test though it’s highly unlikely that Kohli would change the winning combination. One could argue that Hardik Pandya hasn’t done anything significant in the Galle Test and Kuldeep is a better wicket-taking option. But dropping Hardik after just one chance will be harsh and also the fact that the all-rounder has the ability to score quick runs whenever the situation demands.
India: Virat Kohli (captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Lokesh Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Wriddhiman Saha, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Kuldeep Yadav, Abhinav Mukund.
Sri Lanka: Dinesh Chandimal (captain), Angelo Mathews, Upul Tharanga, Dimuth Karunaratne, Niroshan Dickwella, Kusal Mendis, Dhananjaya de Silva, Danushka Gunathilaka, Lahiru Kumara, Vishwa Fernando, Nuwan Pradeep, Rangana Herath, Dilruwan Perera, Malinda Pushpakumara, Lakshan Sandakan, Lahiru Thirimanne