England is Virat Kohli’s chance to go down in history as India’s greatest ever Test skipper
Ever since Virat Kohli first led India as a stand-in skipper back in Adelaide in 2014, you could immediately see the difference in his approach to the game. India decided to go for the chase on the last day instead of playing for a much safer draw. They lost that Test despite his own heroics, but you knew Kohli the captain had arrived, and he was here to stay.
Since then, India have done well in Tests and are currently sitting pretty at the top of the ICC Test rankings. A majority of the success that India have enjoyed under his captaincy has been at home, but to be fair to him, they haven’t played many Tests abroad since he has taken over as the captain.
Out of the 16 Tests that he has captained outside India till now, India have won 8, lost 4 and drawn the rest. Five of the eight wins have come against Sri Lanka, and two against the West Indies. Even the most ardent Kohli fan would agree that those two teams aren’t the strongest going around and the conditions there aren’t as hostile as those in Australia, England, South Africa or even in New Zealand.
In that sense, South Africa was the first real big test for Virat and his team. Despite losing the series, India did reasonably well there. The games were closer than what the scoreline suggests, and India did really well by winning the dead rubber in Johannesburg in what was one of the toughest (even dangerous) pitches to bat on.
The subsequent limited over series wins were at least partly a result of the confidence India gained after a tough win. Fact remains though, that they haven’t won a Test series in tough overseas conditions so far. Ravi Shastri later said that they could have won the series had they come in a bit early and got more time to adjust to the conditions. We will never know.
The upcoming England tour is the next big challenge for Kohli. At least this time, they get a good month or so in England, before the gruelling 5 Test match series begins. If this isn’t enough time for them to acclimatize, nothing will ever be. This series would not only be a test of his captaincy, but would also be a test of fitness for all the cricketers, especially the fast bowlers – cricket’s most injury-prone lot.
One thing Virat has done well as a captain, is that he has set high standards of fitness within the team - the controversial yo-yo test being a case-in-point. Most of the Indian cricketers in the team now are fit enough to hopefully allow India to field their best XI every Test.
But does this India team have it in them to beat England in their own yard? The last time India was able to do that was back in 2007, when they won the 3 Test match series 1-0. India had a strong batting line up back then, and some skilful seamers in Zaheer Khan, RP Singh and Sreesanth. However, when India played England in 2014, they lost the series 3-1. You could argue that the squad was relatively inexperienced back then.
This time around, that is not the case. Most of the members of the current Indian squad have played in England before. Rahane played a memorable knock in the historic Lord's Test in 2014. But apart from him and Vijay who was India’s highest run-getter in that series, no one else including Pujara, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan or even Kohli had a good series. That perhaps was the reason India couldn’t capitalize on the 1-0 lead they had early in the series.
All eyes would especially be on Kohli this time, who would be keen to better his own record in England. Back in 2014, when he first played there, he scored 134 runs in 5 Tests at a meagre average of 13.4 runs per innings. A lot has changed since then and he now is a much more accomplished Test batsman. He has scored 5 centuries in Australia, 2 in South Africa, 1 in New Zealand, 1 in West Indies, and 2 in Sri Lanka. England is the only place outside the subcontinent, where he hasn’t scored a century yet.
It is in many ways the final frontier for him personally as a batsman. Not that he’s not already a great cricketer, but a good Test series in England will put to rest any doubts about his status as perhaps one of the greatest all-format batsmen of all time. With Pujara and Rahane not in the best of form, India will rely heavily on Virat to be the bulwark of Indian batting in England.
India’s bowling looks much more potent this time. With Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and Jasprit Bumrah looking good, India has an impressive fast-bowling quartet. Hardik Pandya would give the team the much-needed balance, with his canny medium pace and useful lower-order batting.
Ashwin, who was perhaps underused last time would also be keen to prove himself on English tracks. He too, like some of the other Test specialists, has had a county stint, which would hold him in good stead in English conditions.
Although they haven’t been in great Test form off-late, England are always a formidable side at home. They know their conditions inside out and would be keen on taking revenge for the 4-0 drubbing they received from India last year. If India do manage to pull off a series win in England, Virat Kohli and his team will be well on their way to go down in history as one of the greatest Test teams to have played for India ever.