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Virat Kohli and his habit of making constant team changes in Tests

Omkar Mankame
581   //    29 Aug 2018, 22:33 IST

England v India: Specsavers 3rd Test - Day One
Virat Kohli is yet to field the same playing XI in successive Test matches

Virat is yet to field an unchanged playing XI even after captaining Team India for 38 Tests, why so? Here is the analysis.

Greek philosopher Heraclitus, 2500 years ago, stated, “The only thing that is constant is the change.” India’s Test captain Virat Kohli swears by it. In the 38 Tests that he has captained the nation, the Delhi lad is still to play with an unchanged playing XI. 

Virat Kohli has been under fire for his ‘Horses for courses’ method from various quarters, however, the fact cannot be ignored that the 29-year old is India's second most successful leader in Tests with 22 wins.

The run of 38 Test matches with at least one change in every match boggles the mind. So here is a deep probe into the personnel and reasons which accounted for continuous swaps.

Virat’s first Test match as the captain was against Australia at Adelaide in December 2014 but it was a temporary appointment. After MS Dhoni’s retirement in the same series, Kohli ascended as the full-time Test captain starting from the fourth Test at Sydney in January 2015. 

From Sydney 2015 to Nottingham 2018, the Indian team has witnessed a total of 80 changes. One change here indicates one player replacing the other. Bhuvneshvar Kumar has been the most frequent traveller with as many as 14 transfers. The openers Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul and Murali Vijay remain a regular feature alongside the fast bowler Umesh Yadav.

Players who have been part of the most changes
Players who have been part of the most changes

The most common feature of the changes has been the shuffling of openers. Under Kohli’s captaincy, India has opened with 10 pairs which include seven batsmen. When it comes to the changes, 22 out of 80 transfers involve only openers with one replacing the other.

The fast bowling department of India resembles a Rubik’s cube where eight fast/medium bowlers have been tried under Kohli’s supervision. 18 changes are solely comprised of fast bowlers. The swap of spinner by spinner has occurred six times. Here is the pie chart with the number of changes and percentages according to specialization.

India has carried out as many as 22 changes within the two opening spots
India has carried out as many as 22 changes within the two opening spots

Now coming to the reasons behind the revolving door policy, here is the break-up. 15 out of 80 changes were carried out because of an injury (as per the information released by Team management). Another six changes include players returning from injury to claim their rightful spot. 

In those 15 changes due to injury, Murali Vijay was omitted from the playing XI four times while currently injured wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha had to sit out three times. 

India’s four out of 80 changes had to be made because of the player facing a suspension. Ishant Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja both faced one Test match suspension from the ICC in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Bhuvneshvar Kumar caused a change in November 2017 as he took a leave for his marriage and then returned for the South African tour.

England v India: 5th Investec Test - Day One
Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been involved in as many as 14 changes under Virat Kohli's captaincy

Remaining 53 changes have been wholly dependent on the pitch conditions, weather conditions, player’s current form and team management’s belief in them. Majority of the changes include replacing a spinner with a medium-pacer or an extra batsman and vice-versa.

The Indian team on an average makes two changes for each Test. However, there have been six Tests where Kohli induced only one change. In contrast as many as five changes were made against South Africa at Mohali in the first Test of the 2015 series.

Note - Since the Australian tour in 2014-15, Virat has missed out on two Test matches. First was against Australia at Ranchi in March 2017 while the other one was Afghanistan’s Test debut at Bengaluru in June 2018. The number of changes is counted on the basis of the team that played under Virat Kohli only.

After winning the Third Test at Nottingham by 203 runs, Indian team management will be thinking about fielding the same winning combination. However, they will be forced into a change if R Ashwin is declared unfit. Moreover, the inclusion of an extra spinner is a possibility. If that happens then the change will rightly be the only constant for Virat and co. 

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