Virat Kohli, India’s Test captain needs to prioritise overseas success in Tests for Team India. But how does he actually help India realise success in Test matches overseas?
Virat Kohli is just nine days away from assuming duties as Team India’s permanent Test captain when India visits Bangladesh for the 1-off Test match that is to be played at the Khan Shaheb Osmani Ali Stadium in Fatullah.
But, he wasn’t able to deliver overseas Test wins for the national side that lost an appalling 15 – won 1 and drew 5 – of the 21 Tests played between the tour of England in 2011 and the recent Tour of Australia, which concluded just before the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup.
In Virat Kohli, India has an aggressive skipper who is probably the best batsman in the side, too, and the nation will be hoping for overseas success under his captaincy.
The task, however, is going to be greater than climbing the Mount Everest, probably, and Kohli, who has already captained India in a couple of Tests, will be well aware of that.
India put up stubborn resistance in the Tests captained by Kohli, against Australia, though they failed to overcome the mistakes that have led to their downfall in overseas conditions since the beginning of this decade.
The tour of Bangladesh, and playing in a one-off Test match, will definitely not be the ideal platform to assess India’s capability of winning Tests away from the sub-continent, but there will be implications to come out from the way Kohli leads the side and the sort of combination he goes in with.
In this article, we will be asking, and then answering, three questions that Kohli needs to address, at the very least, if he is to lead India to glory in overseas Tests.
Indian squad for the solitary Test in Bangladesh: Kohli (C), Wriddhiman Saha (WK), Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Lokesh Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Ravichandran Ashwin, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Varun Aaron, Karn Sharma and Harbhajan Singh.
Does Virat Kohli go in with a five-man bowling attack?
Sourav Ganguly, while he captained India, began the trend of playing just four bowlers and loading the side with 6 batsmen and a proper wicket-keeper, even in the Test match arena; such a combination did pay dividends during the first half of the last decade, when India scripted memorable wins in Headingley and Adelaide Oval and proved a tough nut to crack for England and Australia.
Rahul Dravid, when he took over from Ganguly, followed the same blueprint and tasted decent enough success, winning against South Africa in Johannesburg and then leading India to a 1-0 Test series win against England in England, India’s first in the country since 1986, in 2007.
Dhoni wasn’t any different in his approach, either. During India’s tour of England last year, however, India’s former Test skipper did play 3 fast bowlers and two out-and-out all-rounders – Ravindra Jadeja and Stuart Binny – and engineered India’s first overseas Test win of the decade, at Lord’s.
Coming to Kohli and looking to the future, I strongly believe that the 26-year-old captain has to play five genuine bowlers in overseas Test matches at least.
At home and in the sub-continent, you probably won’t have to play a third seamer and instead, go in with 2 pacers and 2 spinners.
When you tour countries like South Africa, New Zealand and, needless to say, Australia and England, it is imperative that you go hunting for 20 wickets and therefore, reinforce your bowling attack.
That aspect of Kohli’s captaincy is going to be intriguing to witness, as he is an aggressive skipper and ‘wants’ to win cricket matches.
He shouldn’t be the skipper who is inclined to strengthen the batting lineup and play to his side’s strength. A change in trend is required, and I hope Kohli thinks that way, too.
In U Yadav, B Kumar, I Sharma and Mohammed Shami, India have a good pace bowling attack that needs to be utilised to its fullest potential.
I have slotted U Yadav ahead of the other three because I believe he is going to be the spearhead of this attack in a few years if not immediately; he is versatile (can bowl with the new and the old ball), genuinely quick and a wicket-taker, too.
Let us not forget Aaron, who bowled well in patches during India’s last two overseas tours of England and Australia; consistency in the line and length of attack is something he needs to get better at, but it is paramount that Kohli and the Indian team management believe in what Aaron can do.
Time has come for India and Kohli, most importantly, to bank on their fast bowlers to deliver success for the nation in overseas conditions.
Can Virat Kohli unearth a genuine all-rounder at the Test level?
While the 5-bowler strategy is not unthinkable anymore, the search for a genuine all-rounder in the Indian Test setup seems set to continue.
Dhoni’s search for a genuine all-rounder hasn’t stopped, given that he is still the Indian ODI skipper, but the 33-year old has been unsuccessful in his venture thus far.
In Jadeja and Stuart Binny, he sought to nurture a genuine all-rounder, but the Saurashtra left-arm spinner has been a major disappointment and Binny hasn’t had too many opportunities to prove himself.
It will once again be interesting to see what Kohli makes of this scenario and whether he, like Dhoni, is keen on unearthing an all-rounder who will significantly bolster the Indian Test side.
The Ranji circuit doesn’t have too many all-rounders to speak of, at this point in time, making the task of unearthing one that much harder.
Kohli, though, has a couple of options: he can keep his faith in Binny, at least when India travel outside the sub-continent, and utilise his handy batting skills, just as much as he can offer with the ball; secondly, Bhuvneshwar, in whatever we have seen of him during his 12-match Test career so far, can be molded into a good bowling all-rounder.
Bhuvneshwar has a few shortcomings in his bowling repertoire, but his batting skills do make him a possibility to become an all-rounder for India in the next couple of years if mentored and used astutely.
What it will do is give Kohli the option of playing Aaron, instead of a proper batsman, when India travel overseas.
Overcome the overwhelming propensity to capitulate as a batting unit
India’s new Test captain has little control over this aspect, but if he is to lead India to glory in overseas conditions, the Delhi batsman has to address it.
India were in a sumptuous position against Australia in the first Test at the Adelaide Oval last December, when they needed 159 runs with 8 wickets in hand before the start of the last session of the match.
The ball was turning, reverse-swinging and Nathan Lyon was having an amazing match with the ball. 37 overs needed to be bowled and India, in pursuit of 364, had gotten themselves into a position where they would have wanted to be at the start of the day’s play.
Come the last session and the duo of Vijay and Kohli successfully negotiated the first 8 overs, driving India to 242-2 and reducing the required runs to 122 from the remaining 29 overs.
India were in the driver’s seat and the Australian bowlers looked seldom threatening to deliver 8 wicket-taking deliveries.
However, the Kohli-led Indian batting line-up capitulated, which was not something new, mind you, and India folded up for 315, going on to lose the Test by 48 runs.
You could applaud India and Kohli, especially, for the positive attitude they exuded on the final day, but the eventuality wasn’t unusual for anyone who has been following Indian cricket vividly.
Such vulnerability has to be stemmed in order for India to taste success. Virat Kohli, though, being a pure batsman, could have a better say in the batting side of things than what Dhoni did while batting in that No. 6 or No. 7 positions.
It is going to be an exciting period, starting with the Test in Bangladesh, for Indian cricket with Virat Kohli as the captain of the Test team. He will be bringing aggression, vigour and a ruthless mentality to the Indian Test side. But in order for him to deliver success in overseas conditions, Virat Kohli and his team have to answer the three questions above in the best way possible.
Over to you, Kohli.