Transition time for Team India
Following the series win in Sri Lanka coming after 22 years, India has gained three crucial ranking points to eye a better position in the ICC Test team ratings than its present fifth position. While South Africa with 125 ranking points are comfortably numero uno, with Australia (106) a distant second — the next three are bunched close together with England (102), Pakistan (101) and India (100) in that order. Team India skipper Virat Kohli has made no secrets of his ambitions of going much higher, as evident in the aggressive way he and his teammates have lately gone about their business on the field. After the batting collapse against the Lankans in the first test at Galle which saw India stch defeat from the jaws of victory, things were looking pretty grim. In the 15 overseas series victories earned before the Lanka tour, India had always drawn first blood. Kohli is therefore drawing kudos for the exciting reversal of fortunes which saw India clinch the next two tests for a 2-1 series win, which also happened to be his first overseas tour as captain. Not yet 27, Kohli is also the youngest Indian skipper to win a series abroad.
The Galle setback aftermath saw tough questions posed to Kohli about his five-man bowling attack theory. He however remained adamant about the need for five bowlers to knock down twenty wickets in a test. This seemed an indirect admission that in the age of T20 slam-bang cricket, a skipper cannot be certain of posting imposing totals in a test match even with six batting specialists and a wicketkeeper-batsman. The second and third tests were to prove Kohli right as Ishant Sharma and the spin duo of Ravichandra Ashwin and Amit Mishra responded magnificently, while other bowlers like Stuart Binny too chipped in with crucial strikes. The three scorelines filly showed that Indian bowlers did mage to bag 60 wickets in three tests. In particular, the skipper has been credited for fully backing Ishant and Amit in bringing out their newer, meaner avatars. While Wriddhiman Saha, for long India’s best glovesman, was immaculate as ever behind the stumps, his two fifty plus innings in two tests contributed much to the team’s cause. man Ojha as Saha’s replacement in the third test, played two cameos to stand his ground, though he surely could have done better. For some time now, it has been frustrating to see the inconsistency of Team India’s three fastest tearaways Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron and Ishant. If Kohli goes for a bowling coach now, there may yet be more pleasant surprises in store for Indian cricket fans.
Team India is in transition with its batting line-up all topsy-turvy — as seen by the trying out of four openers in the three tests in Lanka, with regular openers Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay dogged by fitness issues. Yet the team failed to get a single 50-run opening partnership start in the series. Ajinkya Rahane who has been settling down nicely in No.5 position, was asked to bat up the order at No.3 in the second and third tests where he scored a ton but failed thrice. Rohit Sharma after flopping at No.3 in the series opener, was sent down to No.5 where he capitalised by scoring freely in four outings. Despite all this shuffling, five batsmen scored centuries which speaks volumes about Kohli’s gung-ho leadership. While standing in for injured captain Mahender Singh Dhoni in the Australia series opener at Adelaide last year, Kohli had backed his team to chase down 364 runs in the fourth innings. Team India had then fallen just 49 runs short of the target, but Kohli’s counter-punching 141 to add to his 115 in the first innings — elicited high praise from hardened Aussie commentators. Kohli took over as regular skipper following ‘Captain Cool’ Dhoni’s exit after the third test in that series, though by then he was already at the helm of the one-dayer and T20 India teams. Having more in common with Saurav Ganguly when it comes to passion and win-all aggression, Virat Kohli will have his real ‘test of fire’ in the home series against South Africa coming up in October. How he organises the team into a fighting unit and employs his unconventiol style against the competitive Proteas, will be the subject of countless heated debates across this cricket-obsessed tion come October.