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Virat Kohli

Eager to see how Virat Kohli shapes up as a leader, former Sri Lankan batsman Romesh Kaluwitharana said India’s new firebrand cricket captain looks hungry for wins but has to deal with a mountain of expectations as well.

“For India, expectations will be high too. A lot of people back in their country have a keen interest and they will watch how Kohli shapes up as skipper. He will have to deal with all those expectations. I am sure the new captain wants to perform and is very hungry to win,” Kaluwitharana said.

But the former wicketkeeper/batsman, who is also the current Sri Lanka A coach and doubled up as the Board President’s XI coach during the three-day practice match, said the upcoming three-Test series is also very important for the Sri Lankans.

“This series is very important for Sri Lanka. We couldn’t do well against Pakistan in the last series and we need to find our way back because that will be a key factor regarding how we move ahead into the future. Also, Sri Lanka will give everything to win the series for Sangakkara,” he said.

India drew their only practice match ahead of the Tests staring August 12 but Kaluwitharana said that result won’t count for much in the series.

“You can say that they have had a bit of a break so it showed a bit. But overall these Indian cricketers put in performances through the year and that also shows in how they prepare,” said Kaluwitharana on Sunday.

“They looked very balanced and focused ahead of this series and what will also be the start of the new season for them. I was particularly impressed with their bowling in this three-day match. The batsmen didn’t spend a lot of time in the middle but they were hitting balls in the nets as well. All in all, I think they are ready for the Test series,” he added.

“The Indian team has been going in with five bowlers and doing that for quite some time now, so it won’t be a surprise if they continue with that tactic,” said Kaluwitharana, about the five-bowler theory.

“While all their bowlers looked good here, it is tough to assume what the combination will be. Until we see the pitch in Galle, we cannot assume whether they will go in with three pacers or two spinners. Generally they do three pacers and two spinners. But they have this luxury because some of their bowlers can do well with the bat. Any team will want to assume this balance in Test cricket, if they can.”

While India have been busy with their preparations, focus among the locals is now slowly shifting to their heroic batsman Kumar Sangakkara, who is preparing to bid the international scene farewell with the first two Tests in this series.

He will retire from Test cricket after the second Test in Colombo, to be played at the P Sara Oval.

“I think it is nice that he is playing his last series with India. We have always played a lot of cricket with our neighbours. Hopefully he can be a great strength for the Lankan team in the first two matches, like he has been throughout his career,” said Kaluwitharana.

When asked about how Sri Lanka will cope with losing both Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene in quick succession, he replied, “We will definitely miss them. They are great players. But Sri Lankan cricket has produced many of them over the years and as such this is a big opportunity for other players to step into their boots.

“It is someone else’s time now. We might not find two of the same calibre at the same time but with experience, I think we can find some really solid performers for the Test level.”

Kaluwitharana said Sri Lanka has decent bench strength to choose from when the seniors call time on their careers.

“Luckily for Sri Lanka, we have always had 3-4 keepers whenever you pick a side. So while they might not have played regularly until now, this is a big opportunity for them to step up. So we don’t really have to blood new players and that is something we are happy with.

“We have Kusal Perera, Niroshan Dickwella and others who can make up the place. It’s about stepping up for these ready players and I am confident we will find the best player to replace him,” he added. [PTI]