Kohli, Shastri and the game of musical chairs

Virat Kohli, Ravi Shastri and the game of musical chairs
Virat Kohli (right) and coach Ravi Shastri attend a cricket training session ahead of the second Test match against South Africa in Pune. Photo: AFP

Virat Kohli marked his 50th Test as captain of Team India in spectacular fashion. He smashed a career-best unbeaten 254 and the bowlers backed it up to complete an innings win inside four days over a beleaguered South African team at Pune.

The win was Kohli's 30th, by far the highest by an Indian skipper, and their fourth in as many Tests in the inaugural ICC Test Championship.

India have always been a tough team to beat at home. But Kohli's men have taken it to a different level altogether – they look nearly invincible in their den.

However, teams are gauged by how they fare in overseas conditions. Kohli is already the most successful Indian skipper abroad with 13 wins from 27 matches. But in modern day cricket the real challenge is to win in SENA – South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia.

Kohli missed a golden chance to lead his side to series wins in South Africa and England, while he became the first Indian captain to clinch a series Down Under earlier this year. He is yet to captain India in a Test in New Zealand.

Kohli, Shastri and the game of musical chairs
Virat Kohli celebrates his double century against South Africa. Photo: AFP

Double-edged sword

Kohli is a fearless leader who is not afraid of losing and his focus has always been on dishing out an aggressive brand of cricket. On the flip side, his tendency to over-attack and pack the side with bowlers probably cost India the series in South Africa and England.

The absence of a specialist No. 6 hurt India on both those tours. It is to be noted that when India won the series 2-1 in Australia, they had played six specialist batsmen in all the four Tests.

The combination of Kohli and head coach Ravi Shastri have never ceased to surprise while picking the playing eleven. The Pune Test too was no exception. India went in with five bowlers and as a result Hanuma Vihari, who played a crucial role in the team's win over the West Indies in the preceding series, was left out. Umesh Yadav, who replaced Vihari, grabbed the chance with both hands as he ended up with a match haul of six wickets.

India could get away with picking just five specialist batsmen in home conditions, but it will be a big blunder on the livelier tracks abroad.

Kohli, Shastri and the game of musical chairs
Umesh Yadav celebrates a wicket with teammates. Photo: AFP

Chop-and-change policy

Kohli has been notorious for not retaining the playing eleven. In fact, only twice India have fielded an unchanged eleven under Kohli and this frequent chopping and changing will not do the players' confidence any good.

None less than former Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly had made it clear that the team management should make the players secure. Of course, the Indian think tank's gamble to fit in Rohit Sharma in the playing eleven as an opener paid off against the Proteas.

Rohit is too good a player to fail on the Indian tracks, but the real test awaits him abroad. His technique and temperament will be tested on tracks which aid swing bowling and on bouncier surfaces. India have only two really challenging Test series lined up in the next couple of seasons – a two-match series in New Zealand early next year and a four-match series Down Under in 2020-21. These two series will determine how good Kohli's team is.

Make no mistake, this Indian team can compete with any side anywhere in the world. But for India to win more Tests abroad, the think tank has to be prudent and give themselves the best chance to succeed. For that they have to get their tactics right and make smart moves.