A packed international calendar has left India with 'no choice' but to get into a "game situation" for the upcoming South Africa tour by playing on seam-friendly pitches in the ongoing home Tests against Sri Lanka, according to Virat Kohli. The series against Sri Lanka, which also includes three ODIs and three T20Is, ends on December 24, 12 days before the first Test against South Africa in Cape Town. This only gives India time to play one two-day warm-up match, on December 30 and 31 in Paarl.
"Unfortunately we get only two days before we fly to South Africa after this series gets over," Kohli said, on the eve of the second Test against Sri Lanka in Nagpur. "So we have no choice but to be in game situation and think of what's coming ahead of us.
"Had we got a month off, ideally, we would have done a proper preparation in a camp sort of scenario but we have to make do with what we have. As usual, cramped for time, which I think we need to assess in future as well, because we very easily assess the team when we go abroad but we don't look at how many days we have got to prepare before we go to a particular place to play.
"And everyone starts judging players when results come after Test matches. It should be a fair game where we get to prepare the way we want to and then we are entitled to be criticised. So we thought this is an ample opportunity for us to challenge ourselves.
"As I said, we want to embrace being in difficult conditions. I am not saying that everyone will go out and perform immediately but if we can feel comfortable about it, after one or two or three innings, someone will come good. And once you come good, you build on that confidence. It's the same for the bowlers. Yes, we are looking at this as an opportunity."
'We need more allrounders to groom as backups' - Kohli
Captain Virat Kohli discusses the allrounder dynamic in the Indian Test set-up
In the first Test at Eden Gardens, a green pitch and overcast skies made for a rain-interrupted Test dominated by the faster bowlers. India's spinners, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, only bowled 10 overs between them across the two innings. Both are among the top five in the ICC's Test bowlers' rankings, but Kohli said India might find it difficult to play both in overseas conditions, despite their batting ability.
"I can't commit to that 100% when we play abroad, that we will be playing with two spinners, to be honest," Kohli said. "Because we need to have a look at the balance of the side as well. Obviously, those two guys with their batting abilities are both contenders to start a Test match, but depending upon the batsmen we are up against in the opposition - when you play on tracks which don't turn and bounce - it's very important to understand if the left-arm spinner is bowling to five right-handers or the offspinner is bowling to four left-handers.
"Just the angle the ball coming in makes so much difference against a spinner. And it can turn away from you at some stage in the Test match. Those are very minor factors that you assess before picking the first spinner in overseas conditions but that's quite far away.
"But yes, we count them as allrounders because they have proved themselves in different situations and they have made some very important contributions to the team. So they are not tail-enders anymore, they are proper allrounders. Their ranking does justice to that. They have really improved their games, it gives us good balance when we play both of them because when you play both of them, you can, if you want to, play an extra bowler as well. So that certainly gives us some cushion to play around."
Kohli stressed the importance of a seam-bowling allrounder in overseas conditions, and said India had picked Vijay Shankar in their squad for Nagpur to try him out as a back-up for Hardik Pandya, who has been rested.
"He [Shankar] has been very consistent. He has earned his spot," Kohli said. "We wanted to look at another allrounder keeping in mind that it's a very important aspect of the team going forward. Obviously, Hardik is in our scheme of things as our first allrounder. But we need to, obviously, find out more people who have that capability and whom we can groom and make as back-ups for the allrounder's slot, which is very, very crucial for us when we travel abroad.
"That is the whole idea of bringing him in and keeping him in the set-up and making him familiar with what's going on here and making him understand what he needs to work on and look at his game as well. He is a pretty balanced cricketer, he is very composed. He is handy with the ball - he can easily give you 10-12 overs a day - and he is very solid with the bat. I just saw him at the nets. Big moment for him. He has earned it, as I said."
On the fifth day in Kolkata, India's charge to an unlikely victory was halted by bad light, but also held up on occasion by Sri Lanka's delaying tactics. Niroshan Dickwella, their wicketkeeper-batsman, was particularly adept, stopping Mohammed Shami in his run-up on a couple of occasions, and exchanging words with him. Asked about this, Kohli said he liked his competitiveness.
"I like to see that character," he said. "He is someone who takes a lot of pride in his cricket. Impressed with what I have seen so far from the last series as well. He has got great ability to do something very special for Sri Lankan cricket.
"I like to see that competitiveness on the field. In the heat of things, I will do anything for my team to win. Afterwards we had a normal chat, and on the flight as well. Those things end on the field. When you are competitive as an opponent, we always respect that about any opponent. He is a very feisty character and that works for his game. Credit for him for maintaining that and I am sure he will do many good things in Sri Lankan cricket."