THE five-bowler strategy is fast turning into a trademark takeaway from Virat Kohli’s press conferences as Test skipper.
So often and with such gusto does he speak about it. On the eve of his first full-fledged series as full-time Test captain to Sri Lanka, Kohli insisted on sticking by his mantra and play the extra bowler.
He also expressed his willingness to push the envelope with the possibility of playing three spinners to improve his team’s chances of taking 20 wickets, and subsequently aim for winning Test matches.
“You need to play a stronger bowling side in order to win Test matches and it’s more exciting and satisfying as well. Yes, that’s (three spinners) a possibility. The idea is to take 20 wickets. I strongly believe that you need your best bowlers to play in order to give your team a chance to do that. The whole idea of playing five bowlers is that the top six have to take more responsibility. Ashwin, Bhuvi and Bhajji are all handy with the bat,” said Kohli in Chennai on Sunday.
He also anointed R Ashwin, who has scored over 1,000 runs with two centuries to boot, as the potential all-rounder that the Indians have for long been in pursuit of.
“Ashwin has a Test average of 40 and I cannot see that why he can’t be that all-rounder for us. That’s the challenge. Giving people goals and asking them to improve in certain aspects where the team requires,” added Kohli.
While the captain did call for his top-six to come to the party during the three Tests in Sri Lanka, there still remains a question mark over the make-up of the batting line-up with both Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma having struggled to cement their spots. Rohit had replaced Pujara during the one-off Test in Bangladesh but failed to get among the runs.
But Kohli came out vehemently in support of the Mumbai right-hander, calling him an impact player while hinting that he might continue batting at No.3.
He also believed that Rohit’s ability to score runs at a rapid rate could be the difference when it comes to India looking to win Test matches away from home.
“We felt that if he gets going he (Rohit) can take one session away from the opposition. That could be the difference in our winning Test matches.
“He had done well in Australia when he has batted at three. I think he needs to get more opportunity there. Once he settles down in that spot, he will be the catalyst that we need in the middle-order who can keep the scoring rate going. Rohit is so naturally gifted and once he is in he got massive scores for Mumbai. So, we want to give him that game time and ample opportunities to get at that big score and in quick time. He does not score slowly and that give the side more chance to bowl those extra 20-odd overs,” Kohli said.
The tussle for the opening slots, which now has KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan —both of whom have scored centuries in their previous Test outings —in the running to partner Murali Vijay is another aspect that Kohli expressed his satisfaction over.
“It is the spot that is being contested for strongly. Rahul came through in Australia and batted really well when Shikhar was not performing consistently. Now Shikhar has got runs again and Vijay has got runs for us consistently. So, it is just in the matter of a shift in the balance as to who is playing well at that particular point of time. The problem of plenty is never bad,” he said.
India are scheduled to play a warm-up game at Colombo’s Premadasa Stadium before heading to Galle for the first Test on August 12. Kohli & Co then return to the capital city to play the second and third Tests. And the captain is looking forward to the 10-day preparation time prior to the opening Test.
“It is an opportunity to have certain plans to prepare for a particular series. Actually, judge ourselves on the basis of those three Test matches and analyse how many times we were able to do things we actually wanted to do. I think in one-off Test matches you do not get that opportunity. You prepare for a week or 10 days and that game gets over in five days. It is very exciting for me personally to play a full series as a captain and to be able to have the opportunity of executing certain things that we want to do as a team,” he added.
Dravid’s tips for Kohli: Take a cue from Viru’s 201 at Galle
India A coach Rahul Dravid, who spent some quality time with Test captain Virat Kohli advised him to make Virender Sehwag’s unbeaten 201 at Galle (in 2008) against a rampaging Ajantha Mendis as a reference frame for facing the Sri Lankan tweakers this time round.
“If you see the way that series (2008) went, Ajantha Mendis was a revelation (he took six wickets in that innings). Mendis was really troubling batsmen. That was the game that Viru bhai actually took him on and whacked him. Couple of days back, I spoke about that innings with Rahul Dravid. He (Dravid) said that is the best innings of Virender Sehwag’s in his career,” the name Sehwag got the utmost respect out of Kohli’s voice.
“That innings personally taught me how to play in Sri Lanka against their spinners in their conditions. I am sure lot of batsmen would want to watch it again throughout the series and take tips as to how we can go about our business,” Kohli made it clear why that innings would be a reference frame for all batsmen playing Test cricket in Sri Lanka.
Incidentally, Sehwag scored 201 out of 329 in that Indian innings where eight players failed to get into double digits.
“I saw the whole of that innings and the way he (Sehwag) batted even with the lower order still so backing himself throughout. That teaches a lot specially to youngsters who want to cement a place or make a mark in Test cricket. It is all about backing your ability and not changing a game too much from what you used to playing.”
Asked about what exactly were the areas where he worked with India A coach Rahul Dravid, the talented Delhi batsman spoke about adjusting to pitches which helps spinners with sweeping being one of the key aspect.
“Sweeping is one aspect that I was always looking to improve on. If you look at our team, Ajinkya plays the shot well, I have seen Rohit play the shot and also Vijay. I thought I might add it into my armoury.”
“I played that last in Australia and I figured out that playing on turning wicket is something that you need to have as a batsmen to tackle difficult situations. Dravid helped me from the sidelines that he saw something could have been corrected while playing.
“That was indeed very helpful and he has been very helpful in the past six days and organized whatever sort of practice that I needed. I am really glad that I came here and played that game. All in all it turned out to be a very good preparation.”
‘When I say “we did not execute plans”, it also includes me’
Virat Kohli is known for speaking his heart out and on the eve of team’s departure to Sri Lanka, he made it a point to clarify his statement about team’s poor performance after ODI series loss to Bangladesh was taken out of context.
Kohli told official broadcasters on the eve of the third ODI that he was “not happy with the approach of the team” which his detractors claimed to be a veiled attack on limited overs captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s captaincy.
Asked about questions of friction in the team and his opinion about team’s approach, Kohli said,”I do not agree on that. I was not saying that I was not happy with that approach. I was saying that I am not happy with the way we have executed plans because we have not been able to do what we wanted to do. When I said ‘We”, it includes me also.
“I think there is a massive difference. Cutting clips and copying and pasting done. Really it is not something I understand. I just mentioned it is something that any player playing in the team would feel that we have not been able to 0execute what we wanted to. So the whole idea is that as a cricketer I am very passionate about winning.
“I am very passionate about playing well for the country. Helping the team win and watching the guys playing in a particular way was the whole idea behind what I had said. I strongly believe that if you have plans you must go and try to execute and if they do not work then you can say that you could not achieve that. That is the whole idea behind what I have said,” Kohli made it clear that he did not like the manner in which his statement was used out of context.
(With PTI inputs)