India Vs Sri Lanka 1st Test, Preview: Virat Kohli's Squad Keen To Iron Out Galle Glitches
India have historically struggled to conquer this Test venue.
The Galle International Stadium has not been a happy ground for India. They have often made all the wrong headlines here - they were at the receiving end of Muttiah Muralitharan's tryst with destiny when he claimed his 800th Test wicket here, almost exactly seven years ago. Then, in 2015, the new-look Team India, with Virat Kohli at the helm, collapsed for just 112 runs on Day 4 while chasing a 176-run target. A certain Rangana Herath took seven wickets that time around. Now, he will be leading Sri Lanka, at least for the Galle Test.
But then things changed. India came back from behind to win the next two Tests, both played at Colombo, by 278 runs and 117 runs respectively, to begin a streak of series wins for Kohli and his side, which is unabated since.
India have in fact won only one Test at Galle, in 2008 under the captaincy of Anil Kumble, before losing three consecutive matches. So you could look at Galle with a little apprehension, or with anticipation. Maybe India will set their record here straight this time around.
The series also brings back Ravi Shastri, well and truly in harness as coach, with the support staff that he was seeking. His presence as team director in 2015 was also one of the aspects that spurred India to rally from the Galle loss to win the series.
A lot has changed since then as a young and aggressive Kohli has turned into a mature captain, who has led the side to 12 wins out of 17 Tests against West Indies, New Zealand, England, Bangladesh and Australia in 2016-17 season.
With Shastri back in charge, along with Bharat Arun guiding the bowlers, there is at least a familiarity about the team's setting. It is perhaps the only positive aspect of the lengthy, at times distasteful, coaching saga.
Combining the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, India have lost only one out of 23 Tests (against Australia at Pune) since that defeat in Galle.
Given India's bench strength, the team management is not worried about KL Rahul being ruled out of the first Test owing to viral fever.
Beyond the opening slots, the rest of the batting order -- from Cheteshwar Pujara, Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane - picks itself.
Rohit Sharma is expected to return to the Test line-up for the first time since he last played against New Zealand in Indore.
While Ravichandran Ashwin is set to play his 50th Test, the composition of India's attack will be a matter of debate right until toss time. If Kohli does pick five bowlers, there is no doubt he will go in with an extra spinner in Kuldeep Yadav.
The hosts have been set back with their own set of problems. They are still undergoing a tough transitional phase, with Graham Ford stepping down as coach and Nic Pothas asked to perform interim duties.
In order to boost their support staff, Chaminda Vaas and Hashan Tillekeratne have come on-board as bowling and batting consultants, respectively.
New Test skipper Dinesh Chandimal will be unavailable owing to pneumonia. In his absence, Herath will lead Sri Lanka.
India: Virat Kohli (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, Lokesh Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Kuldeep Yadav, Abhinav Mukund.
Sri Lanka: Rangana Herath (c), Upul Tharanga, Dimuth Karunaratne, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Asela Gunaratne, Niroshan Dickwella (wk), Dhananjaya de Silva, Danushka Gunathilaka, Dilruwan Perera, Suranga Lakmal, Lahiru Kumara, Vishwa Fernando, Malinda Pushpakumara, Nuwan Pradeep.