Updated: March 25, 2017 7:31:44 am
At the home of the staunchest living proponent of world peace, Virat Kohli addressed on Friday what was one of his calmer media interactions during a series that has been fought bitterly – on the field and in press-conference halls. However, it couldn’t have been the effect of spirituality or substance, both of which are abundant in this town. For Kohli wasn’t as much serene as he was melancholy. What was gnawing away at him was that his shoulder hadn’t recovered from the blow it took while fielding on the first day of the Ranchi Test. It made him a doubtful starter for the series decider. And it made him glum.
“I wouldn’t say it is a normal feeling (in the shoulder),” he said. “It is obviously different from how you play at 100 percent fitness. As a batsman, you want to prepare a certain way. As a fielder, you want to contribute a certain way.”
On a clear and crisp Friday morning, when the team arrived at the HPCA stadium for the final practice session of this home season, things didn’t look all gloomy. Yes, Kohli’s back-up Shreyas Iyer was there as an ominous reminder, but the captain himself was cheerfully participating in the warm-up football game. So far so good. He then even carried his heavy kitbag on his shoulders to the batting practice area. But apart from gingerly knocking a few balls around, he hardly did anything of note. Iyer, on the other hand, padded up and faced Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
“Physio wants to give it a bit more time till I can test myself, and probably we will take a call later tonight or tomorrow before the game. We will have to give it that much time more to make a call with the physiotherapist,” Kohli said.
“Certainly, at this stage, the injury has an element of being aggravated in the field. While batting, there is no problem whatsoever of it getting aggravated. I have taken medication after the last game, so I am just hoping that it takes me [only] a bit more time to get back to the normal movements that I have. As I said, I have to give it a few more hours and take that call.”
Knowing Kohli, you can be sure that he would be absolutely loathe to be in this position. This match has been built up as the biggest test of his captaincy career so far. Not one team has come to India since Kohli has taken over and dared to stand toe-to-toe with them. Australia, who many thought were the weakest side visiting these shores this season, have. And here they are, on the brink of the first series win in India since 2004. If he doesn’t play the fourth Test, and India fail to win, Kohli surely can’t be blamed for that.
But you know that he will blame himself. Because this is HIS team. Because it has been shaped by the force of his personality. It’s well and truly Virat Kohli & Co. He may not have liked the expression, but he is the head of this snake. And, therefore, its loss will be his loss, and its win his win, much the same way as Portugal’s victory in the UEFA Euro 2016 final was Ronaldo’s despite the team achieving it without the emblematic captain.
“Of course you want to push yourself to be fit. But at times, you have to understand where your body stands as well,” Kohli said. “It’s not an injury caused because of lack of fitness. It’s an impact injury and all those things need to be kept in mind. But as a player, as a captain obviously, you want to push yourself to take the field, if you can help the team’s cause.”
Kohli is the team’s best batsman, but that description alone doesn’t come to capture his impact in the dressing room and the field. Let’s put it this way: for this team, he is Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni rolled into one. He has made a mere 46 runs in five innings in this series, but his belligerence played perhaps as much a role in the Bangalore win as Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane’s partnership in the second innings. It alone rattled the Australian cage.
Kohli’s own assessment of his impact, though, was in line with the general mood of the press conference: modest. “I’ve not done anything special so far (in the series), but still the guys have fought it out and that shows why we are the number one team in the world. We have quality players who want to step up given these kinds of opportunities and you know, if that scenario happens (that is, if he doesn’t play), I’m sure everyone’s looking at it as probably the game-changing game of their lives. It’s how you look at a particular situation. So everyone’s looking very optimistic for tomorrow’s game regardless.”
Onus on Rahane
The uncertainty over Kohli’s fitness pushes the self-effacing Ajinkya Rahane into the limelight. Besides the responsibility of potentially leading the team in a high-stakes match, it also makes him a vital cog in the middle-order. Since the big hundred against New Zealand in Indore, Rahane has only two fifties to show in 13 innings. Kohli or no Kohli, if the Dharamsala pitch plays as expected, and assists seam and swing bowling, the job of the middle order in general – and Rahane in particular – becomes all the more important in the likelihood of early wickets.
Needless to say, Rahane revels in such pressure situations. Before the Bangalore Test, there were even calls of dropping him from the team, which the coach Anil Kumble firmly quashed. The batsman paid back by making a crucial 52 in the second innings. Importantly, Rahane thrives on wickets that assist seam bowlers, as his evident from his overseas record. He is at home when the ball is moving around, and he appears to relish it when other are ducking and hopping. Australia, in particular, would remember his ferocious counterattack against Mitchell Johnson in the Boxing Day at the MCG. On that day, he shielded a shaky Kohli who appeared to have been carried away in his verbal sparring with the bowler. India will need Rahane’s monkish calm and resolve, if not as skipper of the team then certainly as the leader of the middle-order batting.
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