By Veturi Srivatsa
Making the right noises about his teammates, skipper Virat Kohli may have won them over. Usually, captains are guarded while talking about the abilities of individual players. Not Kohli, he speaks his mind out to reveal his strategy and the men he needs to carry it out.
The media has realised that the India captain, who is leading the team on his first full tour to Sri Lanka, is articulate and can give good copy. They got a lot to write and interpret about as he spoke on the eve of the team’s departure, leaving no one in doubt that he is firm in his beliefs.
He is clear who he will ask to bat at crucial No.3 position and why he needs to play five bowlers to win Test matches, hinting he could even go in with three spinners. By the end of the pre-tour media conference he has left no one in doubt that he is the boss and will operate on his own terms, whatever the selectors, directors and coaches may think of him. Yet, he might have discussed his plans when the selectors sat to pick the squad.
In form, both Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma can be scintillating. If Pujara can add a bit of solidity at No.3 holding one end up, Rohit can be entertaining on his way to big hundreds.
Kohli in no uncertain terms stated that in his scheme of things, Rohit will bat one drop and reasoned out saying that the Mumbaikar is a game changer and he can do it in one session of his batting.
A good start by the openers will allow Rohit to bat freely and he will also be able to negotiate the new ball if the need arises as he opens in the one-dayers. Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane to follow, the top five batsmen must get 300 plus so that the so-called all-rounders can hold the innings at the lower end.
In the captain’s game plan, if the top order comes good he can play five bowlers on a regular basis to get 20 wickets needed for victory. For that to happen, Wriddhiman Saha at No.6 will have to concentrate more on his batting as his glove work is near faultless, though he is nowhere near Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s class as a batsman.
Does Kohli’s “assigning responsibility to players” mean promoting Ravichandran Ashwin to the key position of six in the order with the message that he is in the team as a genuine all-rounder?
If Ashwin’s position is settled then the question arises of accommodating Harbhajan Singh in the eleven. Kohli has opened so many of his cards before leaving on the tour that it would make it difficult for him to discard any.
He has also hinted at playing three spinners, probably after seeing how top-flight tweakers can get assistance from the Sri Lankan pitches. Ideally, playing the leg-spinner is a must to bowl with Ashwin but can he leave Harbhajan out after specially asking for him? Kohli may have landed himself in a bit of jam and to wriggle out of it he might play all three available spinners to justify his philosophy.
If things don’t work out, Kohli may even make Rohit or Murali Vijay a Moeen Ali to chip off some 10 overs in a day an odd wicket from them as a bonus. He will have to try his pet plan at least in two of the three Tests in Sri Lanka before taking stock of the situation.
Unlike his predecessor Dhoni, who was clearly disgusted with the wayward speedsters in the one-dayers in Bangladesh, Kohli believes raw speed can still make a big difference in Tests. And when the only bowler with lively pace and a fair amount of accuracy, Mohammed Shami, returns from his rehab following surgery on his left knee, Kohli may even play three strong pacers if he sees the pitch is likely to provide the slightest help.
Kohli’s plans are for flat pitches on the subcontinent where he hopes he can get away with his five-batsmen-three-spinners theory. The Indian think tank will not take long to revert to six batsmen at the slightest hint of panic in the dressing room.
Even that shrewd captain, Sourav Ganguly, could not think of playing five regular bowlers with Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, V.V.S Laxman and himself embellishing the line-up. Overseas, he even dropped Anil Kumble to play three seamers, using Sehwag and Tendulkar as backup bowlers. Kohli does not have the players anywhere near the calibre Ganguly had at his command and for all his bravado, he will, at some stage, realise that discretion is the better part of valour.
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior jourlist. The views expressed are persol. He can be reached at email@example.com)