A couple of days back, Virat Kohli posted a slickly-edited gruelling one-minute video of his gym session on Instagram. Watching it can be an intimidating experience. With each streaming second, the weight-plates get heavier, and the lifts tougher. In the background, Irish pop band The Script provides the push — “You could be the greatest, You can be the best, You can be the King Kong banging on your chest”.
It’s timed perfectly, just when the seemingly drained-out Kohli drops the ever-bulging barbell one last time, the crooner’s voice fades away — “You could be the hero, You could get the gold, Breaking all the records that thought, never could be broke…Do it…”.
On Sunday, chairman of national selectors MSK Prasad, a low-key man with a modest international record, in consultation with a committee that has a total experience of 13 Tests, will decide if the raring-to-go India captain needs to be rested for the West Indies tour. India play three T20 Internationals, three ODIs and two Tests against the team that finished ninth at the 10-team World Cup.
If Kohli’s Instagram post is any indication, rest is the last thing on his mind. But for the greater good of Indian cricket, it would be prudent if the captain takes a much-deserved break. Isn’t the West Indies tour the ideal opportunity to test the bench? By including Kohli, and other mainstays for the sojourn, isn’t Indian cricket refusing to learn any lessons from the World Cup batting disaster?
In England, India’s lack of batting depth had puzzled the cricket world. The pundits couldn’t fathom that a cricket-mad country of billion-plus, with world-class facilities spread far and wide, had a depressingly underwhelming middle order. “Vijay Shankar and Kedar Jadhav fall short of the pedigree we have come to expect from a country that has produced some of the most gifted middle-order batsmen of recent times,” wrote Michael Atherton in The Times.
In the lead-up to the World Cup, India’s persistence with the tried and tested for every other series denied those waiting in the wings precious match-time. And so when Plan A failed, out on the field unfolded the ill-conceived Plan B with untested implementers. By insisting on Kohli, the selectors will once again push back the Pandeys, Gills and Iyers of Indian cricket.
However, such is India’s cricket culture that it isn’t easy for the national selectors to “rest” a star even against a far-from-formidable opponent. Such decisions require extraordinary courage and conviction.
For starters, it makes the selectors unpopular with the rested player who is denied the chance to get easy runs or wickets. It also annoys the hosts with gate-money worries, sponsors looking for returns on their exorbitant investment, and big-spending broadcasters tasked with marketing a low-key series.
But unlike previous committees, MSK and Co are better placed to take such tough calls. The new BCCI constitution has empowered the chairman. By eliminating the BCCI secretary from the quorum, and making the chairman the convener of the selection committee, the Big Brother has been thrown out of the room. In another significant change, the final list of selected players no longer needs the BCCI president’s approval. Time will tell if these are progressive changes but henceforth, the selectors will be both independent and accountable. The excuse that their hands were tied would now sound hollow.
Previous selection committees, too, have been reluctant to rest captains. Strangely, India traditionally plays either West Indies or Bangladesh after World Cups. Except for 2011 when world champion skipper Dhoni was rested, captains haven’t opted out or been left behind for such irrelevant post-World Cup bilateral ODI series. It remains to be seen if the selectors do some heavy lifting of their own this time.