Virat Kohli: The apprentice

Focus is on Virat Kohli who is standing in as skipper for MS Dhoni for the first three ODIs.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty | Cuttack | Updated: November 2, 2014 8:06 am
Team India skipper Virat Kohli dives to stop a ball during a training session in Cuttack on Saturday. (PTI) Team India skipper Virat Kohli dives to stop a ball during a training session in Cuttack on Saturday. (PTI)

As Virat Kohli exited the nets, team director Ravi Shastri pulled him aside and alluded to something. Virat Kohli responded and a lengthy conversation ensued. Coach Duncan Fletcher joined in before the trio trudged off towards the wicket to have a closer look at it. Kohli now has the added responsibility of standing in for MS Dhoni and it appeared that the team management wanted to ensure that he didn’t overlook anything.

On the face of it, this is a hastily arranged series — a stop-gap arrangement made by the Indian cricket board to compensate for West Indies’ dramatic departure mid-tour. Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews admits they’re not fully prepared, while from India’s perspective, there’s very little to gain or lose from these five ODIs.

After all, conditions would be entirely different in Australia, where the team lands in a month’s time for four Test matches and a tri-series followed by the World Cup. From Kohli’s point of view, however, this is an opportunity.

The 26-year-old had a shot leading an Indian team in the Asia Cup earlier this year. Dhoni had opted out then. This time the regular skipper is absent because, according to board sources, he has issues with his forearm and that’s why he is rested. Kohli’s India had crashed out at the group stage in Dhaka. This series, starting at the Barabati Stadium tomorrow, gives him another chance to make a mark as captain. It’s a challenge, given that Kohli is widely regarded as Dhoni’s heir apparent.

“I always liked being the captain of the side. It gives me an opportunity to test myself at a different aspect of the game. I relish the challenge,” he said.

Kohli finds it exciting that he would be leading a bunch of young players. “Having a young side with not so much experience is always an exciting thing because there’s a lot that you can achieve. There’s a lot that you can find out about different players. Having that kind of excitement and energy on the field is a pleasing thing for a captain.”

Learning from Dhoni

Kohli reveals he has learnt the ropes by watching Dhoni, taking mental notes. “I try to keep learning as much as I can. When a series like this comes up, I must be prepared to tackle different situations and at least learn from what he (Dhoni) does in those situations. Obviously, like batting styles, people have different styles of captaincy as well.

“But the thinking behind his planning or field placements is something that I’ve been trying to learn and pick off from him. It has been really nice to be able to talk to him about why he does particular things in situations and also get an explanation from him. When I get an explanation, I keep that in mind. If I’ve some doubts, I discuss that with him and he gives me an answer, which is completely logical and one I wouldn’t have probably thought of,” Kohli said.

Bowling has been a problem area for India in all formats of the game and Kohli urged his bowlers to pull up their socks, dangling the World Cup carrot. Absence of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami — rested and injured respectively — opens up an opportunity for Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron to cement their places in this format.

How Kohli the batsman reacts to the added responsibility of captaincy will be gauged during this series. A total of 122 runs in five ODIs before he scored 62 and 127 against the West Indies was very un-Kohli like. Performance in the Test matches in England was even worse — 134 runs in 10 innings. Against Sri Lanka, however, Kohli has always been very successful — 1,527 runs in 35 ODIs at 52.65.

So the swagger is back.

“I’m not really bothered. There were some areas that I personally felt I needed to work on. It has just been a process since then (England) to get my confidence back.”

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