Among Sri Lankans, there is a smile that just won’t go away. It isn’t as if there aren’t any angry or brooding or moping or unhappy people in the island, but it is extremely difficult to spot them. © Getty Images

If prizes were handed out for charm offensive, then Sri Lankans would enjoy a clean sweep every single time.

Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri weren’t merely paying lip service on Thursday (July 20) when they spoke of how much they enjoy coming back to this teardrop island. The people are chill, as they say, and while the weather need not always be an ally given the enervating humidity and the occasional spell of searing heat to go with less infrequent bursts of rain, it isn’t something one isn’t used to as an Indian.

The temptation to look at this first ever full tour of Sri Lanka by an Indian team as an extension of the short limited-overs sojourn to the Caribbean might be overwhelming. After all, there is a joie de vivre to the people here that isn’t dissimilar to what you would encounter in the various Caribbean islands. But while the Caribbean is primarily about beaches – remember the 365 beaches in Antigua, one for each day of the year and we don’t believe in the leap year? – Sri Lanka is more about the people with the ready smile and an innate inquisitiveness that is anything but intrusive.

For all their formidable record on home patch, the lay Sri Lankan fan knows that if both teams play to their full potential, then India should logically carry the day. And yet, despite the proud people that they are, they simply couldn’t care less about clinical details like victory and defeat.

The latest round of charm offensives started from the moment Kohli’s lads touched down in Katunayake on Wednesday. The Sri Lankans love their cricket, even if it may not necessarily be the No. 1 sport, not with rugby as popular as it is. They celebrate champions ungrudgingly, whether it is from within their ranks or not, and while they would love for their team to win every single time, they won’t stone the players’ houses or vilify them if results don’t go their way. There is a sense of maturity and understanding, if not acceptance, that might be a fallout of years of civil unrest. There is a smile that just won’t go away, no matter. It isn’t as if there aren’t any angry or brooding or moping or unhappy Sri Lankans, but they seem to be in such a small minority that it is extremely difficult to spot them.

So the Indians arrived, the world’s No. 1 Test team with one of the premier batsmen of his generation, and the No. 1 Test bowler (Ravindra Jadeja). They were coming off a season of plenty – plenty of games, plenty of victories, and plenty of drama and controversy too. Man for man, they appear far too superior for a Sri Lankan side that has been in transition for a while now, and that had to strain every sinew to quell a formidable and unexpected Zimbabwean challenge in a one-off Test that ended a couple of days back. For all their formidable record on home patch, the lay Sri Lankan fan knows that if both teams play to their full potential, then India should logically carry the day. And yet, despite the proud people that they are, they simply couldn’t care less about clinical details like victory and defeat.

The CCC ground is in a lot of ways emblematic of the best of Sri Lanka. It is the home ground of the Colombo Cricket Club, the oldest first-class cricket club in the country. With a capacity at best of 6000 when makeshift stands can be erected in the minimal space available, it is easily among the smallest Test grounds in the world – it staged the last of its three Tests in April 1987 before ceding pride of place to the more swank Sinhalese Sports Club ground, just across the road in Maitland Place, the P Sara Oval and, from time to time, the R Premadasa Stadium.

No more than a couple of hundred spectators turned up on Friday at the beautiful Colombo Cricket Club ground in the heart of the city for the Indians’ only preparatory game before the Test series. As if mindful of the fact that the Indians needed solid practice, coming as they are after a three-and-a-half-month Test layoff, Sanath Jayasuriya’s selection panel put out a strong Board President’s XI led by Lahiru Thirimanne, and comprising a host of internationals all determined to wend their way back into contention for spots in the senior side. One couldn’t help but think of how India went the other way, ensuring that England didn’t get quality practice against spin in warm-up matches when Alastair Cook’s men came calling in late 2012. How spectacularly that move backfired!

The CCC ground is in a lot of ways emblematic of the best of Sri Lanka. It is the home ground of the Colombo Cricket Club, the oldest first-class cricket club in the country. With a capacity at best of 6000 when makeshift stands can be erected in the minimal space available, it is easily among the smallest Test grounds in the world – it staged the last of its three Tests in April 1987 before ceding pride of place to the more swank Sinhalese Sports Club ground, just across the road in Maitland Place, the P Sara Oval and, from time to time, the R Premadasa Stadium.

Douglas Jardine’s MCC side has played here in the early 30s, some six years after the ground made its first-class debut. But if one thought, given that the first game here was staged some 106 years back, the ground would have gone to seed, one couldn’t be more mistaken.

The clubhouse has a giant painting of a majestic Jardine back-foot punch, and the archaic manually operated scoreboard at the opposite end is as anachronistic as it is cute, but the ground itself is in impeccable condition – it should be, given that it stages matches fairly regularly – with a lovely lush green outfield and a pitch with reasonable carry. No sooner do the boundary ropes end at the eastern side of the ground that an imposing structure looms – the CCC International Cricket Academy, though the Indians that weren’t fielding opted to fine-tune their red-ball skills at the NCC ground, also just across the road and adjacent to the SSC.

Douglas Jardine’s MCC side has played here in the early 30s, some six years after the ground made its first-class debut. © Getty Images

Douglas Jardine’s MCC side played at the charming Colombo Cricket Club ground in the early 1930s, some six years after the venue made its first-class debut. © Getty Images

Jayasuriya and Chaminda Vaas, Romesh Kaluwitharana and Asanka Gurusinha all dropped in, stopping for a selfie here, catching up with old pals there, relaxed and completely at home as they should be. Through it all, they kept an eagle eye on the proceedings, particularly on Thirimanne, who was in the running for a place in the Test side against Zimbabwe until a hamstring injury threw a spanner in the works.

Gradually, the crowd built as people passing by stood on the other side of the fence that Javed Miandad once jumped in 1987 to have a go at, hang on, a heckling Sri Lankan supporter; apparently, a few of them did exist three decades back.

A lot of them had eyes only for Kohli, fast attracting the same esteem here once reserved only for Mohammad ‘Aza’ Azharuddin and Sachin Tendulkar. Kohli has made bucket-loads of runs against the Sri Lankans – nearly 2300 international runs across formats in 49 innings, with seven hundreds and 14 fifties. They dread him a little, but they are also in awe of his batting abilities. Perhaps, it was the surroundings that moved the Indian skipper enough to downplay his Lankan exploits.

“There was a time when we were playing Sri Lanka two times a year, I didn’t have any option but to keep playing those games,” Kohli half-laughed as he reflected on his wonderful record against the neighbours. “That was pretty early in my career and obviously I was very hungry to perform as a player. Coincidentally, after that, there have been a few games where I have scored well and it has come against Sri Lanka. At that time, due to the familiarity, that was a factor as well that we knew the strengths and weaknesses of each other. It was easier to prepare against a team that you were playing fairly regularly at that stage. I don’t think their team changed much at that stage.

“They were a strong side at that time, the batting and bowling, but it didn’t change that much, so it was a bit easier to prepare for the bowlers that we were going to face. To be really honest, we played mostly in conditions that were batting-friendly, so I would not like to take a lot of credit for the runs being scored because they were all high-scoring games and all the batsmen had equal opportunities to do well.”

The next seven weeks will give Kohli further opportunities to add to his impressive numbers. But, whether he continues to turn on the charm offensive or not, in this regard at least, he will only come second best to the Sri Lankans.