India Getting Accustomed To World No.1 Tag (Column: Just Sport)
Two striking features of India’s 4-0 series drubbing of England are the irrelevance of the toss and the quality of pitches when playing Tests in your backyard.
How will one explain the phenomenon of losing four tosses in a five-Test series and winning four, two of these by an innings? That, too, after England had posted 400-plus scores batting first, the 477 in Chennai being a record score for a losing side.
The team can justifiably claim that they don’t have to depend any more on tracks turning square or for that matter standing up to genuine pacer-friendly pitches. If they are confronted with pace, India also have the firepower to hit back.
Now the post-series reviews naturally cannot find any fault with the India team and the leadership qualities of the flamboyant Virat Kohli.
Kohli is not one to hide his emotions on the field, unlike his predecessor Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and he must have had a vicarious pleasure at savouring the margin of series victory.
He was part of the rout India were subjected to when they were in England the last time and personally his own form with the bat did not make him look a serious cricketer, repeatedly nibbling at outswinging deliveries.
Dhoni had to pay for it as it happened to be his second unsuccessful tour to England, though he took the team to Australia only to step down midway through the series, handing over the reins to Kohli.
In that respect, Kohli is lucky. He has started his reign at home and in eight Tests, three against New Zealand and five against England, he has been able to hone his own skills as captain and also the transition of his team.
In between, he won a good series in Sri Lanka rallying after losing the first Test, never easy in the island nation, and another comfortably in the West Indies.
Just as the usual demand for one captain for all formats seemed to be rising, some question marks were put on Kohli’s handling of bowlers and his field placements.
Kohli is not one to shy away from answering his critics. When it was pointed out that for no plausible reason he goes on the defensive in the first session of a Test or a day’s play, his answer is forthright: Yes, the plan is to cut off boundaries and frustrate the batting side! He did succeed a couple of times when the partnerships were building up.
His handling of spinners was also a bit baffling, be it the introduction of his premier off-spinner Ravichandra Ashwin into the attack, or when to bring in left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja. He also did not know how to fit in leg-spinner Amit Mishra in the line-up.
There were occasions when one thought Ashwin should have come in to bowl a lot earlier than he did and on the last day of the Chennai Test, Jadeja was called after an hour or so.
It only proves he is not an instinctive captain; he has plans and he follows them come what may.
If someone had asked him, he would have quipped that he used his pacers Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma to create the rough for Jadeja, having calculated the time and the overs needed to bowl the opposition out!
Of course, his handling of fast bowlers has showed there is a method. Mohammed Shami, Umesh, Bhuwaneshwar Kumar and Ishant delivered to justify his moves, proving that they can get wickets on good pitches and also at sustained pace.
The variety of attack Kohli had at his disposal was good enough to confuse the English batsmen.
Of course, it is not either Kohli or Anil Kumble’s doing that the lower-half has been showing up with the bat. This has been going on for quite some years, from the days of Harbhajan Singh getting hundreds and V.V.S. Laxman winning Tests with the help of the bowlers with the bat, or Shami and Bhuwaneshwar bailing out the team in England.
Rookie off-spinner Jayant Yadav is in a different class altogether as he bats for his Haryana side in the middle-order. His and Ashwin’s gritty hundreds were of great help to the team in posting mammoth totals.
The top and middle order had no problems as the bench strength, at least in home conditions, looks so good that the team did not miss Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma.
Opener Lokesh Rahul looks a class that Karnataka seems to come up with and so is his statemate and close friend Karun Nair, who did something not every batsman can dream of. His triple century has made his life difficult — it will be tough to live up to expectations.
Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara stuck around long enough to score handsome hundreds, leaving Kohli to bat with the freedom necessary for a strokemaker.
All in all, it was too good a team effort.
Five more Tests to go this season, the first-ever with Bangladesh in Hyderabad and four against a struggling Australia before Kohli and his young teammates will be living out of suitcases overseas for the next cycle of series. That’s going to be the real Test.
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