Rajkot | Updated: November 11, 2016 7:43:36 am
As a bowling captain, Virat Kohli has never been on the field for this long. Never has India, under him, conceded more than 500 runs at home. 537 in 159.3 overs — is a situation Virat Kohli, or his young Test side, isn’t used to. In his first two Tests as captain, in Adelaide and Sydney, during the days of his sudden elevation, Australia did cross 500. But still they didn’t make the Indians bowl 159.3 overs, like the English have done on the first two days of the opening Test here.
For a better understanding of Kohli’s exhaustion, let’s first convert the 159.3 overs into ‘hours’. For close to 10-and-a-half hours, Kohli was on the central square, mostly moving from silly mid-on and deep mid-on between overs. During those long hours, he got to see three Englishmen score hundreds, five easy catches getting dropped, many misfields and several slumped shoulders.
Kohli isn’t used to these, especially in home Tests. Six one-sided wins in seven home matches as skipper can make captaincy look easy. It can lead to over-estimation of self and exaggerations from others. It may make one wonder why they made ‘captain of India’ a big deal, called it the toughest job in the world. They say you have the Midas touch and even you start believing it.
Rajkot, so far, has made Kohli realise why this format is called a ‘Test’.
A discovery by India
The first two days of this Test have given no clear indication which way the game is headed. India, in the 23 overs they faced in the final session, scored a comfortable 63. The English bowlers were as ineffective as the Indians. However, on a track that England all-rounder Moeen Ali called a ‘belter’, India have made a discovery. They have got to see a so-far-undiscovered facet of Kohli’s Test captaincy. Rajkot witnessed how Kohli handles a crisis and what he does when neither his bowling changes are working nor his field placements yielding results.
Kohli is vastly different from his predecessor MS Dhoni. When things didn’t go his way, runs were leaking and bowlers were having a mind freeze; one often got the impression that Dhoni switched off. An eerie silence would engulf behind the stumps. It would seem like a wake. Dropped catches or fumbles in the field would result in a poker-faced Dhoni merely shaking his head. Ice Cool Dhoni wasn’t the ideal leader on days when the team was under a freeze.
Under Kohli, there is never a lull on the field. The fact that he is the team’s official ‘ball shiner’ also makes him involved all the time. He is in the habit of walking bowlers to their run-up and remaining within shouting distance of them. Kohli isn’t much of a clapper, in the conventional team cheerleader way. But those who have played with him say that he can be expected to crack a joke or sledge an opponent even if the team’s down in the dumps. It works better than putting that hackneyed ‘shabash, shabash’ on loop even when the player on the field deserves a ‘shabashi’.
On Thursday, India had a nightmarish first session as England scored 139 runs and lost just two wickets. Ben Stokes (128) and Jonny Bairstow (46) would welcome every bowling change from Kohli with a big hit. Wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha would drop a couple of catches, other Stokes mishits would fall between fielders. The frustration in the stands, among Indian fans, was growing. Kohli would have his hands on hips; he would shout to erring teammates and give them long piercing stares. He never went into a shell.
In such situations, Dhoni would have pushed the fielders out and followed up by asking his bowlers to bowl a negative line. The famous ‘7-2’ field would become ‘8-1’ as partnerships would flourish. Kohli, in the latter part of Day 1, did push the fielders back a bit early, but not today. He did have a 7-2 field but not for long. Even when runs were being scored, the catchers were in place.
Realities of sport
Kohli seemed at peace with the fact that the pitch was providing no assistance to his bowlers and it was inevitable that the long English batting line-up would get runs. Deep inside, he seemed confident that when it was his team’s turn to bat, they too would get runs. Kohli recognises the realities of sport. About a year back, at Galle, Sri Lanka ran away with a game that India should have won. Dinesh Chandimal’s whirlwind 162 blew India away from a winning position. “There is only so much you can do,” he said acknowledging the once-in-a-blue-moon unstoppable innings by Chandimal.
The biggest advantage Kohli has over wicketkeeper captain Dhoni is his mobility on field. His fitness makes him the most-travelled fielder on the turf. It makes him a tireless chaser of the ball. Even if it means jumping over the pitch from mid-off to mid-on, sliding, picking the ball and throwing at the stumps. This is what Kohli did in the game’s 126th over with Stokes in his 80s. This was the moment in the game when none of the bowlers were effective and Kohli was left with very few options. In the very next over, No.127 of the inning, he would run from mid-wicket to almost deep mid-on in an attempt to catch Stokes’ top edge.
Kohli doesn’t believe in giving up, giving in. To keep the team involved, the team huddle too kept changing. On Thursday, as India struggled to get wickets, Kohli was seen consulting Ajinkya Rahane, Gautam Gambhir and Ravichandran Ashwin.
The young skipper did lose his cool on a couple of occasions. He shouted when Jadeja missed a tough chance and gave a hard stare at Mishra. Steve Waugh, while talking about Kohli’s captaincy, has said how he should develop a ‘thick skin’. Showing emotions means baring oneself to rivals and exposing a weakness, Waugh believes. Kohli has acknowledged that “the key to being a good captain is not letting your emotions come on to your face”. It’s an area he needs to improve upon. However, he went on to add that he wouldn’t change himself and the “instinct of being aggressive as a captain will remain.”
Sourav Ganguly would get abusive on the field when his players didn’t give it their all, but his era was known for its best atmosphere in the dressing room. Like in Ganguly’s times, when captain Kohli is on the field, the intensity and decibel level rarely drops. The silent era is over.
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