It was evident that even Suresh Raina didnt expect the ball to be thrown at him. His surprise was shared by a few others in the Indian camp. The situation was tense. West Indies required 18 from nine overs with Kemar Roach and Sunil Narine at the crease with only the eccentric No.11 Tino Best to come.
Its not like stand-in skipper Virat Kohli didnt have options. There was Ishant Sharma,who despite having conceded a few runs had struck twice at the start of a new spell. He had also produced some bounce off the dreary Sabina Park wicket and rushed a couple of West Indian batsmen,including Darren Sammy. And Kohli still had one over from Ishant up his sleeve. Bhuvneshwar Kumar,though not generally preferred at the death,had four overs to finish and if ever there was a chance for him to prove his untested mettle at the business end it was now. But Kohli thought otherwise.
To his credit,Raina not only kept the left-handed Narine and Roach in check,he also got rid of the Trinidadian spinner,much to the delight of his skipper. India were to lose the game in the end,by one wicket,but Kohli certainly showed glimpses of his captaincy potential.
You actually wondered what Mahendra Singh Dhoni,sat in the dressing-room with a hamstring pull,would have thought of the decision. Ingenious it might have been but wouldnt the experienced Indian skipper have brought Umesh Yadav on to polish off the last wicket? The Vidarbha pacer had just ousted the biggest obstacle in Indias path,Johnson Charles,for 97. Kohli gambled on Raina instead,and it worked.
Official captaincy debut
With Dhoni out of Tuesdays clash against Sri Lanka,Kohli will get to make his official captaincy debut,and a full-fledged opportunity to build on his impressive outing at the helm on Sunday. That too in a match where a loss could leave either team in a precarious position going into the Trinidad leg of the tri-series.
Going back to the West Indian run-chase,bringing Raina on wasnt the only bold move that Kohli made on Sunday evening. He kept the West Indians thinking with rapid bowling changes,while having R Ashwin as his buffer while the middle overs were on and Charles and Darren Bravo seemed to be dragging the hosts to safety. What stood out was that Kohli never got overawed or deterred when it came to attacking the opposition. Not an over went by where he didnt have men in catching positions. Even for the aggressive Charles,who looked to be on top of the Indian bowling,Kohli employed a slip,a leg-slip and added a short-leg for good measure despite the right-hander nearing a century.
He used Ishant and Yadav intelligently as enforcers,using the two pacers in short bursts and bringing them on whenever a wicket was desperately sought. They struck on three occasions in the very first over of their return spells,vindicating Kohlis use of them.
Though touted as a heir apparent to Dhoni in the eyes of many,captaincy had left him looking ragged,miffed,out of depth and at times like a boy whod lost his way in a mans world during the IPL. Leading Royal Challengers Bangalore,he had not looked equipped to handle the stress of the hot seat,melting under it by openly berating his bowlers,not attempting to mask his emotions even once and letting things spiral out of control.
On Sunday in Kingston,Kohli was calm exemplified. Not once did he take his cap off and scratch his head in despair as was his routine during the IPL. He also had to deal with the likes of Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina being constantly in his ear,not to forget the always manic Dinesh Karthik. To his credit,Kohli never allowed their constant meddling to affect his decision-making.
In many ways,he couldnt have asked for a better match to put his nascent captaincy skills to test. A low-scoring thriller,which by the end resembled a nerve-wracking Test match finish with tail-enders defending and the fielders closing in like vultures. It was a situation where the onus was on the fielding captain to make a game of it. And Kohli certainly did. His attacking fields got him wickets and his daring moves pushed the hosts into making mistakes. For once,Kohli looked like he was enjoying the challenge rather than fretting about it. He didnt go around hurling abuse or pulling his hair out even as Best and Roach stole a few singles in the end to take the home team to safety. He instead patted his teammates backs and smiled.