India vs Sri Lanka 1st T20I: Virat Kohli & Co. aim to hit the ground running at Guwahati
Build on the culture that embraces the collective and maintain the standard that has made India a team worthy of emulating—that was Virat Kohli’s New Year message to his men on a sunny Saturday morning in the Barsapara Stadium in Guwahati.
Kohli spoke after head coach Ravi Shastri’s voice rang out at the empty ACA Stadium in Barsapara between whose stands you can peek at the brow of a hill.
“From a very young age, we are always focused on what we did as individuals. Even when we came back from a game, we were invariably asked ‘what did you do’ rather than ‘did the team win?’” said Kohli, when asked about the team talk.
“I think we get involved in the rat race to an extent where we can go into our individual cocoons a lot of time and that can hamper the team at an important stage.”
In his India team that has changed over the past three years, said Kohli. Players now appreciate a good catch or a great run out that won India the game. He termed it a cultural shift and said it needs to be ingrained in young players who make the team.
“The chat was to embrace that culture, take it through the whole cricketing setup through the country to all age-groups.”
It was this attitude that produced a stellar 2019 for India, barring 30 minutes of cricket—Kohli’s words—in the semi-final of the 50-over World Cup. In the year of another global event—the World T20 in Australia from October 18—Sri Lanka will be the first step to finding out how well the team has understood the message.
Between now and October, depth in batting is what India will be looking at. “We need guys who are ready till six and seven to win you games. You can’t be dependent on two guys or three guys in the batting line-up. That’s not how you win ICC tournaments,” said Kohli.
To get “fearless match-winners” Kohli said it would be important to expose the young, burgeoning talent from IPL to different situations. “It’s very exciting to see who will stand up.”
Shikhar Dhawan returns to international duty after injury and will open with KL Rahul. With run machine Rohit Sharma rested, Kohli will not have to deal the problem of which opener to omit. Till his injury in November, Dhawan got starts but hasn’t scored a half-century since November 2018.
Also back from injury is Jasprit Bumrah and that, Sri Lanka captain Lasith Malinga said, is never an easy thing to do for a bowler. “Most struggle to get into rhythm for the first few matches. We want to get that advantage,” he said of his Mumbai Indians’ teammate.
Handling Bumrah is a test Malinga said his batsmen are keen on. “I can pass on all the information of his attitude and bowling skill, but I am not a batsman,” said Malinga.
Crucial to Sri Lanka’s fortunes too would be how 32-year-old Angelo Mathews, who has not played T20I since August 2018, shapes up. “He’s been in our system. We know what an experienced player he is. He is our finisher. Hopefully, he will deliver,” said Malinga.
Like with the top order, India’s bowling arsenal looks loaded for now and Kohli said its strength in depth will be needed going into the World T20.
“Because the tournament is in Australia, you will need these many options and backups ready. It’s good that we identify five or six guys (fast bowlers). Also, with fast bowlers we know niggles can happen every now and then. So yeah, we’re pretty sorted in that regard,” said Kohli.
More than batsmen, T20 games can be won by bowlers, said Malinga, who will be 37 when the World T20 starts. “If you can minimise boundaries and win situations, you can be in top position,” he said.
To elucidate the point, Malinga referred to the 2014 World T20 final where Sri Lanka restricted India to 130/4 and won with over two overs to spare. The last T20I here saw India being shot out for 118 by Australia, who won by eight wickets. However, this strip is reminiscent more of the run feast India and West Indies had in a 50-over game in 2018.
Malinga said with Sri Lanka having 12-13 players who should be part of the World T20 squad, the search would be on to find two or three players over the next 10 months.
Ranked seventh to India’s fifth, Sri Lanka have won one of their last six T20I series—away to Pakistan last year. They haven’t won a series against India in any format over 10 years. Sri Lanka haven’t beaten India in a T20I since March 6, 2018. That was in the Nidahas Trophy where India won against them six days later. The teams haven’t met since.