The second ODI of a long Indian tour of Australia has just ended. India have managed to level the series in a nail-biting finish. Their most experienced player MS Dhoni is back in form and so is their veteran bowling combination of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami. Most of their players look pumped and charged, and ready for the series decider.
The whole country erupts in celebration. There is a sigh of relief as India have managed to save their grace. Celebrations begin. And the predictions for the next match begin straightaway. Bloggers, YouTubers, cricket experts, social media addicts and trollers, all have their lineups ready for the next match. The series decider at Melbourne is still two and a half days away, but we just don’t care.
There are various factors Indian captain Virat Kohli will look at before naming the final eleven and the twelfth man for the next game. Most of the batsmen are back in form. Australian batsmen are succeeding in the middle overs. The World Cup is less than ten ODIs away. A rare bilateral ODI series victory in Australia is just one match away. But what is Virat thinking?
The second ODI at Adelaide was played on Tuesday and the third one is being played today on Friday. Between Tuesday and Friday, around half a billion people on this planet have prepared multiple XIs for the India-Australia series decider and dozens of combinations for the World Cup squad. But, the mind suddenly starts racing against time as soon as you wake up on Friday morning.
If you are awake by 7 AM Indian Standard Time, you have a lot of time to predict Virat’s XI. Things have changed from last night. Because till last night, it was a team backed by cricketing logic, your experience of watching or having played cricket for years and the form factor. But if you have followed Indian cricket only for the last two years, you know that the only squad that Virat Kohli will not pick is the one that you have picked.
For the series decider today at Melbourne, Virat Kohli dropped the highest wicket-taker in all international cricket in 2018, a batsman he announced would seal the number four spot in India’s batting lineup and a bowler who just made his ODI debut. He has brought in one batting all-rounder and a utility player. By now, both are looking like utility players, but the real issue is that this is certainly nowhere near any of the squads picked by around half a billion people on this planet.
If you are one who has followed Indian cricket in the last twenty years, you have probably watched a lot of matches captained by Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and MS Dhoni. You have probably followed other teams too, those captained by Ricky Ponting, Graeme Smith, Stephen Fleming, Mahela Jayawardene, Kane Williamson, Faf Du Plessis and the like.
Many of the team changes brought in by hundreds of captains who have led ODI sides in the 21st century were backed by some default. Match-fixing, injuries and retirements forced team changes. Many of these captains backed youngsters and some backed their veterans despite bad form. And some of them made crucial last minute changes, compelling cricket lovers to rebrand them as a genius.
And then there is Virat Kohli. You might argue about his captaincy, but he is undoubtedly the leader of the team. One who always leads the team with the bat, always in the thick of things in the field and one who will go all ends to ensure his team is on the winning side. You can doubt his decisions, but you cannot doubt his commitment towards the game.
In a year when India were heavily criticized for their poor results in overseas Tests, he managed to provide the country with something no Indian captain could, a Test series win in Australia. He has not led India to a single multi-nation series victory, but he led the team to a thumping first time ODI series victory in South Africa, just months after an all-format clean sweep in Sri Lanka.
Over the past two years, Virat Kohli has backed many youngsters. Some have responded quite well, while others have not been able to live up to the expectations. Some of his other strategies, including field placements, deciding to bat or bowl after the toss and the team culture he is trying to promote, have been a subject of debate too.
But knowing Virat Kohli, self-belief is one of his most prized attributes. He believes the way his mind, his body and his instincts work and will not allow anyone to mess with that. If, according to him, he is doing something for the betterment of the team, you better not mess with it. His decisions might or might not work out the way he wants them to. But, he certainly won’t stop, and he is most certainly loving the responsibility that comes with being the team captain.
As an Indian cricket fan, you must have faith in your captain. He might not function like all your other captains of the past, but he certainly has something different to offer. Four years ago, no Indian captain would have backed three seamers in every overseas Test the way Virat did. If you are one who loves to criticize his captaincy, learn to appreciate it where it is needed.
As far as team selection is concerned, do not bother. Pick your squad for the first ODI against New Zealand, pick your squad for India’s home games against Australia and have your World Cup squad ready before all that and the Indian Premier League. But, do not get shocked if you have half a dozen players you never expected or wanted, for that matter, for the team you want to win a World Cup. Make your pick, but at your own peril.Published 18 Jan 2019, 09:28 IST