Kohli buoys 'impact player' idea ahead of 2nd Test
There could not have been a better start to India's first away Test series since June 2016, with the team overcoming the opposition easily-- beleaguered by injuries both before and during the game -- and registering their biggest victory by runs on Sri Lankan soil in Galle.
Captain Virat Kohli seemed pleased with the team's performances and spoke at length about the team combination, the rectifications required from the previous Test and the conditions at the SSC, Colombo ahead of the 2nd Test.
India have tasted success at the venue in recent times, winning the last Test between the two sides at the SSC during the 2015 tour. Keeping with that, Kohli said that the result-oriented surface on offer in Colombo bodes well for his team.
"It is a wicket that will give you a result for sure. That excites us as a team. This is the kind of wicket that we like to play on where we have a chance to make an impact on the game throughout. We enjoyed playing here the last time and I think it is a great wicket for Test cricket," the India captain said at the press conference on the eve of the Test.
As far as the changes in the eleven from the last game were concerned, while Kohli admitted that KL Rahul is sure to make a return, he didn't divulge much on what the rest of the team would look like.
"We'll see... we always name 12 anyway. So we'll have a look at the wicket in the morning and take a call during the team meeting. If something changes in the wicket in today's time, we'll take a call in the morning. But according to what we've seen in the wicket, I think we have a combination ready for the game," he said.
On being asked whether Kuldeep Yadav would get a go in Colombo, the captain reclused from spilling the beans.
"All kinds of possibilities are there. When you have a big squad, there are all kinds of possibilities. We don't like to announce things a day prior. It should be a surprise for the opposition, and with the conditions, we could go with anyone. We're always prepared."
The biggest talking point, however, was the change that was expected at the top of the batting order with Rahul declared fit for the Test. India had opened with Abhinav Mukund and Shikhar Dhawan in Galle, and while Mukund was picked in the initial squad, Dhawan was recalled after Murali Vijay failed to recover on time from his wrist injury.
Kohli, however, appeared to be Rahul's confidante and said that it is imperative for him and the team to back the opener '100%.'
Mukund likely to make way for Rahul
"It is very important to make him (Rahul) feel that this is his spot and it won't be changed because of unfortunate events that happen outside the field, or the injuries you have no control over. That's the phase when you have to come back stronger and he's really stuck it out in that phase. It has been hard for him, we all know that," Kohli said.
"So it's very important to make him feel secure because he has been giving us big performances in the past. He's a guy who needs to be backed, and I as a captain and the team management back him 100%."
With that said, it becomes abundantly clear that either Dhawan or Mukund would have to make way for him. As to who would be the one to sit out was an obvious question to be asked.
It should be remembered here that India have followed a practice of including players in the eleven in the order in which they were picked in the squad. Rohit Sharma's selection and Karun Nair's exclusion from the squad was justified by the team management on the same premise.
It was said at the time of the squad announcement for this tour that Rohit, who was in the team during the New Zealand series at home in October and was sidelined for the remainder of the Test season due to injury, deserved his place back in the side, and Nair, who was brought in as Rohit's replacement, was unlucky to miss out.
This was after Nair scored a triple hundred (303*) against England in Chennai. Going by that premise, Mukund should retain his place in the squad as he was picked ahead of Dhawan and was also a part of the squad that last played a Test series -- against Australia.
Kohli, however, hinted at other plans.
"I think in situations like these, you need to sit down and think about which player has had more impact on the game, who has been able to make that difference in the game straight away. It all depends on who's had a better game, to be honest.
There's a very thin line, a very small margin, but that's the way the sport works. Things happen in a team environment, the dynamics of the team, which as I said in the last press conference the guy who sits out will understand the reasons behind it."
Dhawan scored a century in the first innings of the Test -- a free-flowing 190 -- on the first day of the game and laid the foundation for a big score. Mukund, on the other hand, after failing in the first innings, responded with a half-century in the second innings but that came when India were comfortably placed, having already acquired a lead in the first innings.
"This is not to say that those people are not being backed. But whatever the best combination we as a team feel, we should take on the field. It is up to the individuals that are involved in that decision that it's in the best interest of the team.
In scenarios like these, we're likely to think about the guy who's had more impact in setting up the game or winning the game for the team," Kohli added.
While a thumping 304-run win could have been 'just what the doctor ordered' for the visitors, Kohli has been accepting on areas that the team needs to work on.
"One thing we need to be aware of is that when there are partnerships building we need to have composure. But obviously, there are likely to be a few scratches here and there when you're playing Test cricket after February. It is always nice to understand what are the things we lack in and build some momentum as the series progresses.
"Yesterday's practice was really good. The guys were hitting their areas and we're pretty confident that those areas that we had identified in the last game, the boys will start hitting those areas and rectify ourselves starting from this game."