Hailed by many as the ‘Last of the Mohicans’ in cricket’s purest format, Virat Kohli will be focussed on making his 100th appearance memorable while ‘white-ball legend’ Rohit Sharma plots the demolition of an out-of-depth Sri Lanka as India’s 35th Test captain in the series-opener starting in Mohali on Friday. (More Cricket News)
If one looks back at Indian team's journey since its inception in international cricket back in 1932, it has been about stars, superstars, and megastars, who become the reason for the footfall at turnstiles of various stadiums across the country.
It was the case when Sunil Gavaskar scored his 10,000th run, Sachin Tendulkar bade the most emotional farewell that cricket has ever seen and now the spotlight will be firmly on Kohli, whose domineering presence has turned an international match into a footnote.
Kohli is one among "them" and in a fast-paced world, perhaps the last cricket star who will enjoy an organic following of manic fans. India was, is and will remain more of a "cricketer-loving" nation and the social media war-cry that perhaps led to fans being allowed in the stadium from Friday is a testimony to Kohli's immense popularity.
This is his 'Test' and for Kohli, a century to mark a 'century' is something he would be craving, having missed that sense of accomplishment that comes with a three-figure mark for over two years now. A bowling attack that has the likes of Suranga Lakmal, Lahiru Kumara or Lasith Embuldeniya is perfect for a sumptuous 'five course' Kohli treat with cover drives, on drives, flicks and pulls on the menu.
Gavaskar and Tendulkar couldn't, neither could a Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid or VVS Laxman but Kohli is a different beast. The empty amphitheatre was never meant for him. He feeds off the energy from his fans, and as the undisputed hero of his story, he always finds an antagonist, he is trying to slay.
However, every story has its own set of subtexts and this Test match is as much as a Kohli story as it is about Rohit and his remarkable ascendancy making light of set ideas and templates. Everyone knows Roht's credentials in white-ball cricket, especially IPL, where he has even challenged the hegemony of the peerless Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Rohit's tactical acumen has always got him respect from all quarters and the first reflection of it in Test cricket would be how he handles his playing XI. It is expected that Shubman Gill will be coming in at number three in the place vacated by Pujara and will have to show "intent" which was believed to be missing earlier.
Gill has the game to do that. The tricky position will be the other middle-order slot which Rahane had made his own for the longest time. There are two candidates and both are deserving. Hanuma Vihari, Indian cricket's new fire-fighter, has always been sent out to bat in difficult overseas conditions and hasn't done badly at all.
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And this makes him a deserving candidate for a fair run of Test matches. The other is Shreyas Iyer, a very flashy batter but with some technical glitches, including problems against short ball. He had a good initiation in Test matches with a hundred on debut against New Zealand.
Vihari, if one goes by the pecking order, could be that second middle-order man, who brings in that defensive solidity which is required at times. It also helps that he has a great record against spinners.
But there could be a tactical move of sending Rishabh Pant at number five as he can then take on Sri Lanka's premier left-arm spinner Embuldeniya.
The Lankan batting line-up depends heavily on skipper Dimuth Karunaratne along with old guards Dinesh Chandimal and Angelo Mathews, both well past their prime. How well they handle Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja on a pitch that will be dry after being baked by sunshine is a million-dollar question.
In a nutshell, one can expect a four-day finish if India bats first and even earlier if they bat second.
India: Rohit Sharma (captain), Mayank Agarwal, Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Rishabh Pant (wk), Hanuma Vihari, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Jayant Yadav, Shreyas Iyer, Kona Bharat (wk), Umesh Yadav, Saurabh Kumar, Priyank Panchal
Sri Lanka: Dimuth Karunaratne (captain), Dhanajaya De Silva, Charith Asalanka, Dushmantha Chammeera, Dinesh Chandimal, Angelo Mathews, Niroshan Dickwella, Lasith Embuldeniya, Vishwa Fernando, Suranga Lakmal, Lahiru Thirimanne, Lahiru Kumara, Kusal Mendis (wk), Pathum Nssanka, Jeffrey Vandersay, Praveen Jayawickrama, Chamika Karunaratne.