GALLE: New India coach Ravi Shastri will Wednesday look to prove his team remains the world’s best Test side when they take on Sri Lanka in the first of three matches.
Shastri, who took over the demanding role after Anil Kumble’s acrimonious exit last month, has backed India to continue the “fearless brand of cricket” that helped them regain the number one position last year from Pakistan. While India lost the Champions Trophy final to their arch-rivals, the Virat Kohli-led side is on a roll after winning 10 of the last 13 Tests, overcoming top sides like New Zealand, England and Australia.
“They know their job. They are professional cricketers. Once they step on the field they take over. That is how it should be,” said Shastri, who became head coach after Kumble quit over his “untenable” relationship with Kohli. “My role will be to get the guys to express themselves and play a fearless brand of cricket,” the former all-rounder added.
While India start as overwhelming favourites after the seventh-ranked Sri Lanka scraped past Zimbabwe in a one-off Test last week, Shastri has warned against complacency. “Sri Lanka can’t be taken lightly at home. Their track record playing at home is as good as any another team. We would look to improve in the series,” said the 55-year-old. The visitors have played a two-day warm-up game in Colombo with returning batsman Shikhar Dhawan among the scorers.
Meanwhile Indian opener Lokesh Rahul, who scored a half-century in the practice game, was ruled out of the first match due to viral fever. India could start with three spinners and use left-arm wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav with the experienced Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
Ashwin said the players were looking forward to working with Shastri. “Ravi has been a fabulous person to have in the dressing room. Even when he was here last time, we lost that Test in Galle and he really picked us up from that low point in our careers,” Ashwin told reporters.
Sri Lanka, whose new Test skipper Dinesh Chandimal has been ruled out through flu, will need all the experience of stand-in captain Rangana Herath. The left-arm spinner, who took 11 wickets against Zimbabwe and his 31st five-wicket haul in 81 Tests, is key for Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s pace lineup has been bolstered by the return of veteran Nuwan Pradeep, who is likely to start at Galle International Stadium.
Dhananjaya de Silva adds muscle to their strong batting arsenal, comprising former captain Angelo Mathews, Upul Tharanga and Niroshan Dickwella. Sri Lanka’s interim coach Nic Pothas said the team should take inspiration from Kohli’s men, who overcame a 1-0 deficit to beat the islanders in a three-Test series in 2015.
The triumph resurrected India’s fortunes as they registered their first series win in Sri Lanka for 23 years and went on to become the number one Test side again a year later. “I think we probably are in the same situation that Virat was talking about the Indian team being in a few years ago. We are in that rebuilding phase,” said Pothas. The South African, who took charge after Graham Ford’s exit last month, added he was focused on changing the team’s culture and unleashing their potential.
SRI LANKA: Rangana Herath (Captain), Upul Tharanga, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Asela Gunaratne, Niroshan Dickwella, Dhananjaya de Silva, Danushka Gunathilaka, Dilruwan Perera, Suranga Lakmal, Lahiru Kumara, Vishwa Fernando, Malinda Pushpakumara, Nuwan Pradeep.
INDIA: Virat Kohli (Captain), Shikhar Dhawan, Lokesh Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane (vice captain), Rohit Sharma, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Kuldeep Yadav, Abhinav Mukund.