Pallekele : Virat Kohli and his men stand on the cusp of history, aiming to become the first Indian team to complete a whitewash in an overseas three-Test series when they meet a below-par Sri Lanka in the third and final match, starting from today.
India have won the first two Tests by comprehensive margins — by 304 runs in Galle and an innings and 53 runs in Colombo. The island nation, which has been going through a transition phase for quite some time, has decided to roll-out a green top with an aim to salvage some pride from the inconsequential game. Their saving grace could be inclement weather after a spell of showers led to India’s practice session being cancelled on Friday.
By including pacers Dushmantha Chameera and Lahiru Gamage in their squad, replacing the injured duo of Nuwan Pradeep and Rangana Herath, the Lankans are aiming to strike back with pace.
Two days before the match, it was difficult to differentiate the 22-yards from the lush green outfield of the Pallekele stadium.
The nature of the pitch may prompt Kohli to play his third specialist seamer in Bhuvneshwar Kumar in place of the suspended Ravindra Jadeja. Bhuvneshwar has done well in the few chances he has got in the Test team during the Kohli era.
For seaming conditions, he has been Kohli’s ‘Go To Man’.
However, there is a possibility that Bhuvneshwar, with his decent batting ability, will replace Hardik Pandya with chinaman Kuldeep Yadav playing as the second spinner.
Wrist spinner Kuldeep did wonderfully well on a bouncy Dharamsala track against Australia, where his four first innings wickets proved to be decisive. The 28 Tests in which he has captained India so far, Kohli has not fielded the same XI. The pattern is unlikely to change in the 29th Test as well.
How big a 3-0 series win will be is still debatable considering the quality of the opposition. But considering that India have never won a full Test series, 85 years since their debut in 1932, it will be praiseworthy if they go on to win the final Test of the series.
It will be interesting to note that India also do not have too many whitewashes at home to show for their efforts.
In all, India have played four such series where they have won all Test matches.
Two such series were under Mohammed Azharuddin’s captaincy — 3-0 against England in 1993 and an identical margin versus Sri Lanka in 1994. Under Mahendra Singh Dhoni, India outplayed Australia 4-0 in the 2013 home series while Kohli led the side during the 3-0 rout of New Zealand, last year.
Among their memorable overseas Test series (two or more victories) wins will be the Kapil Dev-led side winning 2-0 in a three-match series in England in 1986, beating Pakistan 2-1 in 2004, 2-1 in Sri Lanka in 2015 and the first one — 3-1 in New Zealand under Tiger Pataudi way back in 1967-68.
When it came to two Test series, India have won 2-0 in Bangladesh (2004-05), Zimbabwe (2005-06) and Bangladesh again (2009-10).
A win in the third Test will also strengthen chief coach Ravi Shastri’s claim that “this team is capable of breaking new ground”.
It will be interesting if team management decides to shuffle the combination now that they have won the series.
The team management may think of giving Abhinav Mukund another chance while Rohit Sharma is still waiting to play his first Test since October.