There was a deafening roar when Virat Kohli plunged full-length to save a certain boundary. Then, there was a shuddering silence. For Kohli was holding his shoulder in crunching pain. In the process of aborting the boundary, after a lung-busting burst from mid-on, Kohli had crash-landed, the momentum of his sprint making the impact heavy. The skipper gestured for first aid, and then trudged back to the pavilion with the physio. It was the first ball of the 40th over, and the match on an even keel, with Australia 132/3. With the addition of eight more runs, they lost Peter Handscomb. India had reclaimed the advantage. And now when the skipper returns, they would go for the jugular. Or so we thought. The crowd waited, and waited, eventually in vain, for 50.5 overs to see Kohli back on the field.
Perhaps, the eleven Indians on the field missed him even more, his charisma, his contagious drive and unbridled passion. As the day wore on, their shoulders drooped, the spirits flailed, their tactics misfired, and for the first time since Kohli took over the reins, they seemed utterly sapped of energy. Almost soulless.
Not that his deputy Ajinkya Rahane was bland or daft — after all, he was never made to lead the troops for any extended spell of time. Maybe, 10-20 minutes at the most. But he’s essentially a novice when it comes to leading sides, and needn’t be preposterously belittled. Fielding coach R Sridhar expressed much the same, “I thought Ajinkya did a very good job filling up for Virat. He was very sure of his plans and was taking advice from Ashwin and Ishant Sharma who are the other seniors in the team. So it was quite democratic.”
Sridhar further pointed out that Rahane did his best to sustain the intensity. “He kept the energy levels going. He made sure he was communicating well with the bowler and took the inputs from the senior players,” he said.
Rahane might be tactically sound and imaginative, or even democratic, but he simply didn’t wield the same intimidating presence as Kohli. He is, in complete contrast to Kohli, self-effacing, a little mellowed and measured in his demeanour.
To illustrate the point, you can see Kohli, even if nothing is going in India’s way, chirping and clapping, shouting and scowling. Sometimes, the whole urgency makes the match look tense, the opposition suddenly feeling a sweaty anxiety .
Those 50-odd overs also woke one up to the unimagined possibility of Kohli being not on the field, or Kohli even missing a match. Sridhar was positive he would recover from the shoulder strain, and later the BCCI sent out a release informing that “relevant investigations have revealed that there are no serious concerns, which will hamper his speedy recovery.”
He might return and resuscitate the flailing spirits of his men on Friday, but his absence prompted one to think about an unpleasant hypothetical situation in the future.