By John Cheeran
Virat Kohli is important for India not merely because he scores runs when the team needs them but what he represents, what does off the field. He is a prolific run-gatherer. He is also a great communicator even though his message sometimes leaves sane-minded people cringing and looking for cover as when he wanted only temples for Indian cricketers in the minds of desi fans.
Kohli, famously, had said that he believed the side he is leading currently is the greatest Indian team. This he said after losing to the Test series in England. He was pilloried for that comment, what many considered an outrageous assertion in the wake of a defeat. Someone even quoted the late critic and theologian C S Lewis to take Kohli to task.
But, then, you can’t read C S Lewis and then survive James Anderson and cart Stuart Broad. Kohli, as an athlete, has to believe in himself and his colleagues to take on the challenge on the field. All he has to do that he does not become self-delusional.
Kohli can be frank and irreverent in front of the mike despite defeat because as a performer has been doing his part. He scores runs. Consistently. In that sense he is self-assured, and, in the end, sport boils down to scorecard. If a Kim Hughes and a Dileep Vengsarkar (he led India. Even today, without a bat in his hands, Vengsarkar is the most fragile of men I have come across) had come unhinged after bruising series defeats, it was not merely their character flaws but the scoreboard had been unkind to them.
Kolhi is a conservative lout off the pitch and, I presume, is being coached by skillful public relations consultants which was in evidence when he dedicated the ODI series win against England to the flood-hit Kerala. His imagemakers goof up as well. His public spirit, even if it is genuine, does not matter since we have enough saints in our parched land. What matters is that he leads India on the pitch aggressively and wins it for us.
Win. Can he become the first Indian captain to win a Test series in Australia?
India is the No.1 ranked side and Australia wallows at No.5. And Kohli is the No.1 batsman.
The thing is that, in India, everyone, including Anushka Sharma, believes that India has to only show up at Adelaide to beat the Aussies. The Aussie-conqueror VVS Laxman has predicted that India would thrash the Aussies 3-1. The optimism stems more from the fact that this is the most depleted and haggard looking bunch of Kangaroos (No Steve Smith, No David Warner) in recent times than the Agni missiles that Kohli carries in his trouser pockets. And we have Ravi Shastri, something that no other side in the world can have however hard they might try.
But there are others who quickly point out that the England that India encountered in England under Joe Root, too, was a brittle side, especially in batting. But Kohli failed, however heroically, to overpower them. Chastened by the experience, one is hoping that, Kohli would be a little practical in terms of team composition.
The prevailing idea that India should field five bowlers, including R Ashwin, is going to cost India the Adelaide Test. Taking a four-man pace attack of Bhuvanesh Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma may convey India’s take no prisoners attitude and look good on paper, but as anyone should know, wicket taking happens in inspired bursts, and it is often a single man that scythes through the field.
Batting for long hours remains fundamental to secure a Test and then win it. The abundance of aggressive stroke-makers in this side—except Cheteswar Pujara—will give me a sleepless night tonight. Hope I will awake to a dawn of runs Down Under.