Colombo: K.L. Rahul’s imminent return leaves skipper Virat Kohli with an unenviable task of dropping opener Abhinav Mukund as India aim to clinch the three-match series against Sri Lanka with another resounding victory in the second Test starting on Thursday.
The selection conundrum is a testimony to the superb bench strength of the team. Rahul’s absence hardly affected the performance with India thrashing the hosts by 304 runs, starting the series with a bang.
Ironically, Mukund, who will be warming the bench, scored 81 in the second innings but just that his opening partner Shikhar Dhawan outshone him with a 168-ball-190, that set up the match and got him the best player award.
“KL Rahul has been our established opener. I feel one of the openers (Dhawan or Mukund) will have to make way for him because what he (Rahul) has done in the past two years for us has been very solid. He deserves to come back and start fresh in Test again,” Kohli made his choice of playing XI pretty clear ahead of the match.
While Kohli did not explicitly mention Mukund’s exclusion but one could clearly read between the lines when he answered a question on his preferred choice between the two left-handers.
“I feel in a situation like this, you need to sit down and think which player has had more impact on the game. Who has been able to sort of make that difference in the game straightaway? It all depends on who has had a better game, to be honest,” Kohli’s answer made it crystal clear.
Interestingly, India had faced the opening dilemma even the last time they played here. Both Dhawan and Murali Vijay were out injured two years ago, and it was the young Rahul, playing only his second series, who opened with Pujara.
For the hosts, the task ahead is as onerous as it was in the first Test. The gap in Test rankings — no.1 to no.7 — highlights the gulf between the sides and the result from Galle has only widened it further. It is a far cry from 12 months ago when this same Sri Lankan side blanked Australia 3-0. Perhaps the pitches were vastly different in that series, and if so, Lanka should be concerned again.
There is some good news ahead of this second Test for the injury-ridden side as their skipper Dinesh Chandimal has recovered from pneumonia and will be available for this game.
He is a mercurial batsman who put the Indian attack to the sword with a blistering 162 off 169 balls at Galle in 2015. It had stirred a stunning turn-around, and Lanka will be hoping for similar inspiration from him once again.
Seasoned batsman Lahiru Thirimanne has also been called up as replacement for injured Asela Gunaratne who broke his left thumb whilst fielding on day one of the first Test and was ruled out of the remainder of the series.
Thirimanne had last played Test cricket for Lanka against England in 2016, and on his comeback trail, scored 59 runs in the two-day warm-up game India played in Colombo before the first Test.
Left-arm wrist-spinner Lakshan Sandakan has been brought into the squad as backup for Rangana Herath. The left-arm spinner, stand-in skipper at Galle last week, had injured his left hand whilst fielding too during the first Test. Although scans revealed no breakage, his hand was swollen as a result of which he didn’t bat in the second Lankan innings....