Virat Kohli’s team looks ominously good. No doubt it is a work in progress; a collection of players falling into place as a team. But they are achieving it in style.
The manner in which the absence of first-choice openers — Murali Vijay and KL Rahul — was glossed over by the efforts of Shikhar Dhawan and Abhinav Mukund in the first Test at Galle spoke volumes for the depth and commitment of the unit.
Usually the loss of key players to eleventh-hour injuries could be a dampener. Not for this team though, at least not on the evidence of their approach to the task at Galle.
Vijay had pulled out of the tour owing to relapse of his wrist injury while Rahul was laid low just before the first Test by a bout of flu. This, however, paved the way for a resurgent Dhawan to gloriously bash the Sri Lankan bowlers into submission and lay the foundation for a terrific victory.
Immediately after the win, Kohli was asked whether he had a problem of choice with so many opening batsmen.
“Yeah, and one regular opener (Vijay) who is not fit. It’s a massive headache, but I guess it is a good one. Eventually the guys understand that only two can take the field at the most and on tours, only three openers make the squad.
“I think the one who is left out in both scenarios understands how the dynamics of the team works,” he added.
Indeed, there is much to be said about the propensity of this team to grasp team dynamics, bond together and fight it out. They proved this in the home series when despite the absence through injury of skipper Kohli, the others did their captain proud by battling it out time and again and coming up trumps.
The fact that those battles were on home soil helped, especially as Indian teams are traditionally a force to reckon with in their own backyard. Crucially, the home series was just the cushion that the team needed to get together and work towards a cause.
The momentous wins at home against New Zealand, England, Australia and Bangladesh helped develop and nurture team spirit. Even the ugly and wholly undesirable spat that ended in the resignation of coach Anil Kumble had its positives as it created an “Us versus Him” situation where the players stuck with the skipper.
Of course this was hardly the sort of thing to project as a cause and did little credit to many of the personnel involved. But it had its silver lining when the team rallied around the skipper. That is how it ought to have been even if the episode itself left a bad taste in the mouth.
But the cause brought the team together and showed that they were all on the same page and willing to stick it out together.
Presently, this Sri Lankan challenge must be seen in terms of furthering that team bonding and getting the team battle ready for the significantly tougher South African tour.
Kohli has already pepped up his budding all-rounder Hardik Pandya by likening him to the hugely-successful England all rounder Ben Stokes. In fact, he has given him a tag and challenged him to live up to it. Should he come good in the series of matches between now and the South African tour, Kohli and India will have gained a massive asset who could work as a force multiplier for the team.
Just as Kohli needs a pair of good opening batsmen at the top he also needs to work on his pace bowling options to set the tone for any assault on rival batsmen. The decision not to enforce the follow-on in the first Test was part of backing his bowlers and giving them a chance to recover and later come out with all guns blazing.
The fact that he could achieve all that he desired — running into personal batting form, getting Mukund going, rest and rejuvenate his pacemen and of course register the big win — showed that Kohli was on top of the situation.
Importantly, the manner in which his players, from Dhawan and Mukund at the top to Cheteswar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Pandya, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and even Wriddhiman Saha responded augurs well in the quest to forge a formidable unit.
The return of Rahul or even any of the other pacemen for the second Test starting Thursday will only fortify the team further. And that, as far as Team India is concerned, is music to the ears.