Virat Kohli and his boys are finally back in the country from where their journey towards becoming the number one Test team in the world began, a couple of years back. It was the 2-1 series win in Sri Lanka in 2015, which brought Kohli’s captaincy skills in the limelight. The graph of the Indian Test side has gone only upwards as since that tour as they have registered back to back series wins over West Indies, New Zealand, England, Bangladesh and Australia, all under his leadership.
However, for me, these two years have been the honeymoon period for captain Kohli, simply because India have played all these Test series in subcontinent and in the West Indies, where conditions matched the strengths of this team.
But, in the near future, things are going to get a lot tougher for Kohli and Co.
Following this ongoing assignment in Sri Lanka, in the next couple years, India are scheduled to play Test cricket in South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia. For any sub-continental team, these countries are considered as the toughest territories to play Test cricket.
The pitches and the weather conditions will be quite different from the one this team has encountered in the last few years. The likes of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja – who are the prime weapons of this India bowling unit, will not get enough help from the track to run through the opposition over those pitches. Also, the sideways movement over there will not allow the Indian batsmen to hit through the line.
Thus, quite understandably, India will be on the back foot at the start and Kohli’s captaincy will be under intense scrutiny on those tours.
Hardik, a timely pick
It is high time for the Indian think-tank to start identifying and grooming a core group of players, who can be handy on such non-subcontinental conditions. Being the captain, Kohli has to show his initiative here and the process has to start in this ongoing series in Sri Lanka.
In the past, we have seen in conditions which are non-spin friendly, India have always struggled to get those 20 wickets. According to me, this time Kohli needs a pool of six genuine wicket-takers in the squad, to deal with this issue.
Currently, with the likes of Mohammad Shami, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma around, India have an exciting pace attack. It is good to see all-rounder Hardik Pandya getting a game at the ongoing Galle Test. Of late, he has emerged as an exciting young pace bowling all-rounder and he can be more than handy with both ball and bat in pace-friendly wickets.
Remember, with the ball, he can touch the 140 kmph mark quite regularly. It seems Pandya is in the frame of a scheme of the team management for the third seamer’s spot in South Africa and keeping that in mind, presently, he is getting a look in.
By dropping Kuldeep, India missed a trick
Meanwhile, Kohli has to look into his spin attack. The dismal records of Ashwin and Jadeja outside sub-continent are known to everyone. So, the team needs to find a back-up and young left-arm chinaman spinner Kuldeep Yadav, who made an impressive debut against Australia at Dharamshala earlier this year, is the most likely option for this spot.
Unfortunately, keeping him out of the playing eleven at Galle, I believe, India have missed a trick.
An unorthodox bowler like Kuldeep could have been a surprise package for the relatively inexperienced Sri Lankan batting line-up. Players often say it is hard to pick what is coming out of the hand if you have not played against him before and on a flat track at Galle, Kuldeep’s variations could have been more than handy.
Kohli, as captain, often prefers to play five specialist bowlers in Tests and at a venue like Galle, which has always been a happy hunting ground for spinners, he should have ideally gone for the variations of in-form Kuldeep, who took 4 for 14 in the warm-up fixture last week against the Sri Lanka Board President XI.
Getting picked in the playing eleven in the first Test of an away series is a huge confidence booster any young cricketer who is looking to make his mark. Of course, it would have been a gamble, but under present circumstances, it could have been a risk worth taking for the captain.
Being the leader of the number one Test team, we expect Kohli to be more proactive in his decision making. He has to come out of his shell and take these high-risk decisions, to achieve success in the uncharted territories.
Well, by dropping Kuldeep he missed an opportunity in the Test. We hope in the latter half of the series, he will rectify this.