India are set to play three Test matches against Sri Lanka in their turf and so far they seem to be in the better situation, although they have lost their regular opener KL Rahul. Sri Lanka, without the services of Dinesh Chandimal, will have to get their act together with Rangana Herath at the helm of affairs. India captain Virat Kohli has always preferred to go in with five bowlers and with Hardik Pandya in the side, India can afford to that without playing a batsman short in the Test match. With Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja doing well in the home season, it is more than likely that the visitors will probably drop a seamer and try and fit in Pandya in the line-up.
Kohli hinted that Pandya may get his maiden Test cap against Sri Lanka on Thursday as he chose to underline the all-rounder's wicket-taking ability on all kind of tracks.
India had lost to Sri Lanka at Galle during the 2015 series when Kohli went in with a combination of five specialist bowlers with a batsman short in the playing XI.
However, the presence of Pandya, who bowls fast medium close to 140 km per hour and is a capable batsman, provides Kohli with the balance that he seeks.
"Last time, we felt we probably were a batsman short and the fifth bowler did not do much in the game. We have those options again, but we have great balance in the side as well. We have got a guy like Hardik Pandya, who is a wicket-taking bowler.
"Every game that he plays, on any surface, he has a knack of picking wickets. He has a great chance of playing as well," Kohli explained.
He referred to how Stuart Binny's small contributions became important in next two Tests that India won in 2015. "In the next two Tests on that 2015 tour, we played an all-rounder (Binny) and that made all the difference. The extra batsmen would give us more solidity. We have taken learning from that and we will surely apply those straightaway in the series instead of getting a feel of how things will go. You need to have your best strike bowlers in order to pick up 20 wickets."
Kohli reckoned that the Galle International Stadium pitch would be good to bat on.
"There is a good grass covering and we expect it to be a good batting wicket. It was rolled yesterday (on Monday) and I am sure today (Tuesday), it would have been rolled in very nicely as well. And underneath the surface, it looks very hard. There is grass covering on it to keep the surface bound up and it should be a very good batting track," the Indian skipper observed.
In absence of Rahul, who is down with viral fever, Shikhar Dhawan will open the innings with Abhinav Mukund.
"Rahul is an established player and he has done very well for us in all formats over the past year. He is a very solid player, but these kinds of scenarios present opportunities to other players in the team to step up and show what they are capable of.
"They can have a solid performance and stay with the team for a longer period and get more chances to play in the future. So, our players look at these scenarios as opportunities and it is a great opportunity for Abhinav or Shikhar to string in strong performances again," said the skipper.
Kohli had words of encouragement for Rahul, who is just coming back after a shoulder surgery.
"It is difficult to keep the players positive when they are injured. I have also been injured recently and it's a not a nice feeling. The only thing you can do is to accept the reality and know what needs to be done. There is not much you can do apart from doing rehab and all those sort of things.
"This (viral fever) is not an injury (for Rahul) and I am sure he is not that disappointed. He has had a major surgery and he has been able to come back. So three-four days more will not make a difference to him because he batted well really in the practice game and he is really looking forward to step back on to the field," he added.
Talking about Sri Lankan attack, the discussions veered towards veteran left-arm spinner Rangana Herath.
"He (Herath) is a quality bowler. Last time, he really dented us in that small chase. It's something that actually was a great eye opener for us. We worked on those things in the next two games and we were able to win the series. He played both the games and the ball was still doing a bit.
"I think our batsmen came up with the goods and they had the counter plans in place. So we understand what he brings to the table and understand what needs to be done," the skipper concluded.
(With PTI Inputs)