By Sa’adi Thawfeeq
Indian captain Virat Kohli whilst acknowledging Kumar Sangakkara as one of the top three left-hand batsmen in the world said that his team would make special plans for him when he plays his final Test series.
Sangakkara is expected to appear in the first two Test of the three-match series at Galle (August 12-16) and at the P Sara Oval (August 20-24) before retiring from international cricket.
“I am sure he will want to leave a big mark in his last few Tests. As a visiting team we will take a lot of planning to do something special against Sri Lanka and for Sanga. It has to be planned properly,” said Kohli addressing his first pre-tour press conference for an entire series as captain.
“If you ask any left hander in the world who he idolizes Sangakkara has to be one of the top three players most of the left-handers in general look upto. His record in international cricket, Test cricket especially has been magnificent. He’s been such a match-winner for Sri Lanka I am sure they are going to miss him.
“I had a great relationship with him as well whenever we played against each other. We had conversations, we had chats and he was someone who had something to talk about cricket and was always willing to help the younger players around him. Great man, great cricketer he deserves a very good farewell so we will prepare accordingly.”
Kohli compared Sangakkara’s retirement to that of India who had also in the past six to eight months lost several of their top cricketers through retirements and was going through a rebuilding process.
“Kumar has been such a pillar for Sri Lanka cricket over the years it’s going to be a challenge for them as it was with the Indian team,” said Kohli. “In the last 6-8 months we had to rebuild and the batsmen had to take more responsibility. The series is in the balance as far as the composition of the team is concerned. I expect it to be very competitive. Sri Lanka is one team who might not express much but they play in a very competitive way which is always great to have as an opposition.”
Kohli cast aside the fact that India has not won a Test series in Sri Lanka for 22 years and said, “We have come here to play good cricket. Both teams are in a rebuilding phase – the number of years, records, creating history all goes on the sidelines because you want to focus on playing good cricket as a team and build a strong side and build momentum going to the future of Test cricket.
“For the Indian team every series is a part of the plan that we are looking to put in place for the next 5-6 years and build a really strong unit that will continue to play for a long time. So the prime focus is to go out there and back ourselves and execute our skills and have a really competitive side,” he said.
“One area we have not capitalised is being on top in those crunch moments. That’s been the difference in us winning Test matches, drawing and losing. We’ve played in a very competitive way but those small mistakes matter a lot in a way. Home work on the Sri Lankans has been done, we’ve seen the Test matches against Pakistan and how it went. We have a lot of data nothing different to be done as far as our game plan is concerned. Holding onto crucial catches is one area we have to work on in Tests.”
Kohli who took over the Indian Test captaincy from MS Dhoni said that the added responsibility has not changed the way he plays his cricket.
“I’ve been criticized a lot for being too aggressive at times but that is something that’s given me success as an individual and that’s something we believe in as a team as well, not saying the line of discipline has to be crossed in terms of body language,” said Kohli.
“Our mindset we would like to play cricket in that way which we did in Australia and I felt that it gave us a good chance to be really competitive against a very strong side in their home. I don’t find any need to change the way I play or the whole team believes in the same mindset and that’s how we will go with in the series.”
The Indian captain said he expected the series to be a hard fought one and added that Sri Lanka remained a special thing in his heart because it was here that he played his first international match and his career actually kick-started.