With a string of limited-overs contests lined up between now and the end of October – India plays One-Day Internationals as well as Twenty20 Internationals here in Sri Lanka, then at home first against Australia followed by New Zealand – to assume that the temptation to give some of the white-ball specialists a go in red-ball play might not be far-fetched.
Virat Kohli, however, ruled out change for the sake of change in the final Test against Sri Lanka starting at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium on Saturday (August 12), even though India has already knotted up the three-match series 2-0.
“We have to understand that to play consistent cricket, obviously you need to make sure that people are playing on a regular basis,” the Indian captain said at the team’s hotel on Friday evening after rain scuttled their designs of afternoon practice. “Those who are performing and those who are doing well should continue in more games than not. To be a consistent side, we need to have continuity unless situations where things are not controllable arise. We certainly don’t want to take anything lightly. We want to play the same kind of cricket that we have and hopefully retain the team that played the last game as much as we can. We are certainly not thinking of too many changes at all, especially in this format, because you don’t want to start taking things for granted and lose that momentum. We certainly are not thinking on drastic chances at this stage.”
Against this backdrop, it becomes critical to therefore keep the bench strength in good spirit and hunger, in keeping those itching to have a go motivated. “That is also a skill,” Kohli agreed. “Those players who don’t get a chance, managing them is also a skill. It is not easy because everyone wants to play and luckily we have such players who are just waiting for opportunities. We don’t have players who are happy to sit out. That attitude helps them stay interested in working hard. They know that there will be a phase where those who are currently playing might not be in the best form, so then they will get their chance. In a team environment, everyone knows that only 11 players can play, and sometimes some players have to wait for a long time and some players don’t have to wait at all. In professional sport, they understand this aspect. They are intelligent so you don’t get too many such questions. They understand the dynamics of the team and they make our job easier because their attitude is so good.”
One of those from the bench almost certain to play on the morrow is Kuldeep Yadav, the left-arm chinaman bowler who is set to replace the suspended Ravindra Jadeja in the playing XI. “Not that we are old, but all these very young guys coming in, there is one thing striking about them and that is their confidence. The will to compete against any opposition or in any condition is something that really stands out as far as I am concerned as captain. These guys give you confidence, guys like Kuldeep,” Kohli said of the 22-year-old.
“When you hand him the ball, he is willing to bowl in any situation, willing to bowl with attacking fields, willing to throw the ball up towards the batsmen, he believes in his own ability and believes in deceiving the batsmen with the skill that he has so. That’s his biggest quality. He has proven himself in Dharamsala (on Test debut) which was not such a spin-friendly wicket, it was quite flat in the first 2-3 days of the Test match. He turned the game around for us, so he has ability, which is very rare to find. A chinaman bowler is always something which is an X-factor in a team; I would say his confidence is his USP. He has a great chance of playing tomorrow and I wish him all the best.”
Friday’s washout meant India has had just one day of practice since the end of the second Test at the SSC ground on Sunday. Kohli agreed that in view of the heavy workload the team has shouldered in the past few months, and given how much high-intensity cricket lies ahead of them, that was not necessarily such a bad thing.
“We are certainly better placed to be able to afford a couple of days,” he said. “Yesterday we took an off voluntarily and today it just happened to rain but the day before that we had a good practice. Also, what you need to understand is that in places like Sri Lanka, it is very hot and humid. People sometimes end up doing too much at practice and then maybe you don’t recover for the game. It might just be a good thing for those who needed more rest, especially the bowlers who have massive workload during Test matches. For us, I feel it’s more of a positive thing than a hindrance that we didn’t have practice a day before the game because we are in a good zone. Everyone is playing good cricket and everyone is bowling well. We feel absolutely comfortable going into the Test match even though we didn’t practice today.”
Kohli insisted that there had been no talk within the team circles about a 3-0 series sweep. India has never swept a series in Sri Lanka, and hasn’t had a sweep overseas ever in a series involving more than two Tests, but that’s not something that had been discussed, Kohli added. “No. For us, it’s about playing another Test match and trying to win another Test match. We have already won the series. But as I said, it doesn’t mean that we can be complacent or afford to be complacent.
“You cannot look at these things (3-0 sweep etc) and go into a game, that’s certainly not what we think. I know none of the other team members are also thinking about this because I personally feel that it’s just a distraction that causes people to be over-excited and that causes people to look too far ahead about what might be the outcome of this particular game. We need to stay in the present and treat every session with respect to win a Test match, and that’s exactly what we want to follow.”
There has been some talk about Kohli being rested for the five-match ODI series and the one-off T20I that will succeed the Tests. The skipper himself was taken aback when asked about the status of his participation. “My participation? Who said I am not playing?” he asked back in reply, utterly flabbergasted and then breaking into a helpless smile. “I don’t know where this came from. If you don’t want me to play, then tell me! I have no problems in playing.”