A young man by the name of Virat Kohli, fresh from guiding India to a victory in the Under-19 World Cup, was en route to Dambulla in 2008 as a squad member for India’s tour of Sri Lanka.
Even as the weight of youth sat on his cheeks, Kohli was handed the cap on August 18, and he was ready for his One-Day International debut. It last for 22 balls, 12 runs and one four before Nuwan Kulasekara trapped him in front of the stumps. One needn’t try hard to conjure the image: head thrown back in disgust, a heavy stomp in each stride, the bat making contact with the pads on a few occasions and perhaps some tears in his eyes.
Nine years on, he’s back in Dambulla, not nearly as on the edge with his emotions, and as the Indian skipper now for the five-match ODI series against Sri Lanka.
“When we arrived here yesterday a lot of memories came back,” said Kohli on the eve of the first one-dayer. “It was coincidentally the same chair I sat on nine years ago when I first played for India. I have very happy memories from this place.
“First time I ever opened in professional cricket was for India. I had never done something like that. Quite an adventurous first couple of games for me, but yeah good to remember nine years down the line, same date, same month, same stadium, so it couldn’t have been more special for me.”
One can imagine how helpless Kohli would have felt after being dismissed on his debut, and yet here is, 8,257 runs in ODI runs later, speaking about the game as if it were as simple as that.
“It’s very basic, it’s very simple,” said Kohli. “One-Day cricket, T20 cricket, anything, you have to be positive in your mindset. With the bat you have to look to consolidate every situation, you have to stay one step ahead of the opposition. Even as a bowling unit you need to look for wickets at all the time. And in that process, if a team outplays you on a particular day you have to accept that. (With) One-Day cricket there’s no guarantees.
“You can’t come back into the game on the second day or the third day. It’s what happens on that particular day and sometimes sides are better than you because they also have eleven quality players. You have to accept that and move forward. Not change your mindset, always be aggressive, to pick up wickets, in the field trying to save every run possible.”
Among several tough but pleasant decisions Kohli has to make ahead of this ODI, the one that’s on his shoulders at the moment is picking the right spin duo for the game. Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav and Axar Patel are the men at his disposal, but it seems likely that the two wrist spinners will make it through.
“I don’t see this pitch having three spinners, I have played here in the past. It’s probably a three-fast bowlers kind of pitch which Hardik Pandya does for us as a third seamer,” he explained. “I see only two spinners taking the field. Now who are those two is going to really depend on what we feel like going in with as a team, but having wrist spinners in the team is always an advantage. You see teams across the world, they have at least one wrist spinner, if not two in their side, giving you breakthroughs in the middle order which is very important.”