With the first test between Sri Lanka and India less than 24 hours away, there are already close-door activities on either side. They are weighing their strengths and weaknesses; conjuring up the possible elevens in the team and strategizing the on-field performances. Meanwhile there is bad news for India. Murali Vijay has failed to show 100% match fitness and he will be replaced by KL Rahul, who excelled in India’s warm-up game against the Sri Lanka Board’s Presdent XI. But Murali will be missed because in the last one year, he has been India’s most consistent batsman, especially on overseas trips. More than the bowlers and batsmen on either side, the intriguing series will be seen as test between two contrasting captains; Angelo Mathews and Virat Kohli. The 26-year old Indian is made of a fiery stuff and his reputation precedes him, wherever he goes. He plays aggressively, has a sharp tongue and colors of emotions often show on his face and his actions. In sharp contrast, Kohli’s counterpart on the Sri Lankan side is cool like Dhoni. The 28-year old Mathews always maintains a steady demeanor and it is impossible to tell what runs beneath his outward calmness. Perhaps the only similarity between Kohli and Mathews is; both are leading young sides in the series and want to win against all odds.
Virat Kohli has played 34 test matches for India and his batting average is impressive at 45.73. Kohli has also notched up 10 centuries so far with an aggregate score of 2561 runs. On this count, Angelo Mathews scores over Kohli with test averages of 51.67. But more important than that is the fact that Mathew’s best scores have come, when Sri Lanka had run into crisis. The poker-faced Mathews may appear dull but deep within, he is an extraordinary fighter. Because of fast changing outwardly expressions, Kohli looks a more dynamic leader. He has a batting technique that has been appreciated by many analysts. He produces extraordinary shots by whipping his wrists in a manner other batsmen would want to avoid. He has batted on the quickest pitches in the world and against the fastest of bowlers. But his aggressiveness has also brought about his downfall at times. His last tour to England was a disaster. In contrast, Mathews has scored a century at Lords and 160 at Headingley.
Kohli puts himself in the garb of an army general, when he leads his team. But what he probably doesn’t understand is that many decisions require a level-headed mind. If you were to tell Kohli that he has an aggressive demeanor, he may likely take it as a compliment! His belief in the attacking style of cricket can be seen in using three or four slip fielders even when the ball might have lost its sheen. The downsides in Mathews’ leadership are fewer. His teammates often accuse him of being too cool. He has been found to stand inertly in the field with an expressionless face, even when the opposition is taking the match away from his side by free scoring. But under Mathews, the failures have been lesser and Sri Lanka cricket has continued with him at the helm. As a player, he has another virtue; he bowls superbly as well. Kumara Sangakkara has better test batting average than Mathews but Sanga himself is in praise of his colleague admitting that his own runs have come in easier situations while Mathews had often batted with tail-enders and brought new life in the innings when other have failed.
Kohli wants to provide a vibrant direction to India’s transition to a world-beating side. For some time, Kohli’s 5-bowler strategy is doing the round in media events and reportage. Kohli’s mantra is aggression and he is prepared to lose while fighting hard. He has the backing of his colleagues, including the strong-statured Ravi Shastri. On the other hand, if you were to ask Mathews about dumping a batsman, he may take you for a fool.
The road ahead for both Kohli and Mathews is strewn with challenges. Both captains want their teams to develop into world beaters as they embark on a series that will be closely followed in both nations. Local fans in Sri Lanka have been disenchanted with their country’s poor performance in 2015 but they would like Mathews’ team to beat the visiting Indians. Kohli has an immediate task of erasing the memory of a recent away loss against Bangladesh.