WHILE it’s their catchphrases or rather oft-muttered clichés that generally earn cult status, most cricket captains also possess idiosyncrasies while addressing press conferences that don’t quite get the same mileage.
Legend has it that Mohammad Azharuddin sat through one while trimming his toe-nails. Virat Kohli might still be in his early days as Test captain but he too has shown glimpses of possessing a singular quirk. For, while he’s busy batting against the dodge balls thrown at him by the media, he is often seen scribbling away on a notepad in front of him.
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On Wednesday, at Colombo’s Taj Samudra, situated exotically on Galle Face Road, Kohli found plenty of time to do just that as his counterpart Angelo Mathews dodged a few rounds fired at him by the local press.
That Sinhalese uses a lot of long vowels, hence giving the language a stretched-out feel, only added to the time he had to use the pen. So frenetically was he scrawling, you would have mistook him for actually attending a Sinhalese language class.
On closer inspection-once the press conference was over-though it was revealed that Kohli had simply been doodling. And after having practiced his autograph, he had gone on to draw big square boxes, before attaching them with diagonal lines. He had after all kept his thoughts to himself.
It’s an activity that he will have to indulge in rather excessively over the next three days at the Premadasa Stadium – even if not literally. Maybe he was only practicing for that. For, as India go into their three-day warm up game, which starts on Thursday, Kohli will not only be keen on joining the dots, he will be desperate to do so.
For, despite his insistence on the young captain’s being a team that is settling well, it still does carry a rather uneasy feel to it.
The first Test India played once their legendary middle-order had once and for all faded away was on a tricky pitch at the Wanderers in Johannesburg. Kohli came within a handful runs of making a century in each innings in that Test while Cheteshwar Pujara too got to three-figures in commanding fashion.
Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami each bowled fiery spells and if not for a rear-guard effort of astronomical proportions from AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis, young India might have made the brightest generational transformation in recent years.
The future still looked brighter with all the boxes looking seemingly ticked.
But here we are some 18 months later, and there is still ambiguity over not only the make-up of the XI, but also where a number of them stand in terms of roles and responsibilities. Back then, both facets seemed etched in stone.
Out of favour
Not many would have imagined Pujara falling out of favour for the No.3 spot after the Jo’burg ton. But with Kohli having hinted that it is Rohit Sharma that he prefers for the one-drop position, the Saurashtra right-hander looks likely to have to make way once more. Unless of course he can alter the status quo with big runs over the next three days.
It will not be easy, however, with the pitch at Premadasa resembling the one that Pujara made 153 on against Dale Steyn & Co back in December 2013. To boot the skies have remained dark and despondent ever since the Indians landed here on Monday, with occasional bursts of rain playing havoc with their training schedules.
Though anointed for the role, Rohit still has a long way to prove himself worthy of occupying the coveted spot.
History suggests Indian No.3’s don’t find life easy in Sri Lanka with Rahul Dravid himself having averaged only 33 in 12 Tests here.
Kohli too hasn’t been among the runs of late, and Ajinkya Rahane who had batted himself into being India’s most dependable batsmen in 2014, also in pursuit of a return to form.
As Indian Test captain, Kohli has experienced first-hand the pressures of not having a bowling attack that can control the game according to their skipper’s needs. Both in Adelaide and at the Sydney Cricket Ground, there were moments that Umesh Yadav & Co could have utilized to prise open the Australian batting line-up but they failed to.
In fact, they let the hosts get away. They are errors he can ill-afford against Sri Lanka in their backyard and it’s not surprising that it is one aspect Kohli is looking at to rectify over the next four weeks, starting with the warm-up game.
“I think the one area we have sort of not capitalised is being on top in those crunch sessions like say just after a session or just before the session break or drinks break. That’s probably been the difference in us winning Test matches, drawing them or being on the losing side,” he said taking a break from his scribbling.
Touring Indian teams aren’t too used to playing three-day practice games, but this is one that they can really do with if they are to win their first Test series here since 1993. And Kohli can only hope that he’s drawing bold lines with all the dots connected in harmony by the time the team departs for Galle — venue for the first Test — on Sunday.