Relaxed India not fussed about downtime before Test

With a day off followed by rain, it is possible that on match day, Virat Kohli may have last seen the pitch 72 hours ago, but India remain circumspect in their approach and insist there is no complacency

India have travelled to the hills to play the final Test of the second series in a row. When they did so last, in Dharamsala against Australia, they had all sorts of questions to answer. Virat Kohli raced against time to be fit, a race he would eventually lose. The pitch was not a typical Indian track, so the selection was tricky. On the line was a series against Australia, who had shocked India by first taking the series lead, and then frustrated them by holding on to a draw in the third match.
In the seemingly endless rolling green heights of Pallekele, though, things couldn't have been more different. India have already won the series against a side whose inadequacies have been accentuated by injuries to key players. India's first-ever overseas whitewash in a series of three Tests or longer is now a distinct possibility. There is one selection question because of the suspension of Ravindra Jadeja, but there are many takers waiting for the opportunity to get into the side.
It is no big surprise then that when it rained a little on the morning before the Test, India called off their training. It is possible that on the morning of the the Test, captain Virat Kohli will have last seen the pitch about 72 hours ago. The day after their only training session in Pallekele, India went to visit a temple that originates from the mythological book Ramayana.
While they were away, the groundsmen at Pallekele International Stadium unveiled a lush green pitch, one that could rival the hills around. But over the next three hours, they studiously clipped off a lot of the grass. Sri Lanka's chief selector Sanath Jayasuriya stood there by the pitch, almost overseeing the process.
This is not quite the same as Napier 2008-09, when India chose to reach the city of the Test on the afternoon before the match, but you suspect India's preparation - rain or no rain - would have been different had Sri Lanka put up a stiffer fight in the series.
At least India this time didn't justify not looking at the pitch like MS Dhoni had done in legendary fashion in 2008-09. "The mind doesn't know if it's Napier or what you're feeding. You come and say 'this is Napier', and it believes it's Napier. If you see, it's an abstract." Famous last words. Dhoni pulled out of the Test with a bad back, and Gautam Gambhir and VVS Laxman had to dig deep to salvage a draw.
India this time are a little more circumspect. "Not really," Kohli said when asked if he remembered the last time he went into a Test without having had a look at the pitch a day before the toss. "I mean, it's quite a different situation, but the management has gone to the stadium to have a look. We heard there were some changes to the pitch so they have gone to check how things look at this stage, so we will have more clarity on what we need to go in with. But I haven't yet really gone in without looking at the wicket at least 8-10 hours before the game before this. So it's probably a different kind of situation."
All this means India will likely travel to the ground on Saturday morning without a fixed XI in mind. The fact that India have been playing so much cricket of late means they can afford to take a day or two off when it comes to training.
"You can say we are certainly better placed to be able to afford a couple of days off," Kohli said. "Yesterday, we took an off voluntarily, and today, it just happened to rain. But the day before that, we had a good practice. Also, what you need to understand in places like Sri Lanka, it is very hot and humid. People sometimes end up doing too much at practice, and then, maybe, you don't recover for a game. It might just be a good thing for those who needed more rest, especially the bowlers who have massive workload during Test matches.
"For us, I feel it's more of a positive thing than a hindrance that we didn't have practice a day before the game because we are in a good zone. Everyone is playing good cricket and everyone is bowling well. So we feel absolutely comfortable going into the Test match even though we didn't practice today."
Kohli assured there was to be no complacency when he insisted India were not going to make wholesale changes to the XI now that the series has been secured. "We have to understand that to play consistent cricket, you need to make sure that people are playing on a regular basis," he said. "Those who are preforming and those who are doing well should continue in more games than not. To be a consistent side, I think we need to have continuity as well, unless the situations where things are not controllable arise.
"So we certainly don't want to take anything lightly. We want to play the same kind of cricket that we have, and hopefully, retain the team that played the last game as much as we can. So we are certainly not thinking of too many changes at all, especially in this format because you don't want to start taking things for granted and lose that momentum. We certainly are not thinking of drastic chances at this stage."
Kohli said thinking of a first away whitewash was a distraction they could do well without. It is just another Test match for them, Kohli said. And, as they do with every other Test, they want to win. Yet, there is a bit of a stamp of a 2-0 lead in the preparation for it.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo