Among his many talents, Virat Kohli has a remarkable ability to get stuck into the opposition. Mostly, it is with a bat in hand, irrespective of the format. But, at times, his role as Test skipper also allows him to shoot where it hurts the most.
Sample this: “We didn’t ask for the gap. It was part of the schedule. (But) We need to make sure that when we go to England, we also have eight days’ gap after three Tests and then a 25-day gap between Tests and ODIs,” said Kohli in Mumbai, when asked about the break between the third and fourth Tests.
Now, the skipper also highlighted that his team “benefitted from the break”, visualising what they had done right to go 2-0 up in the series. Not to mention, the eight-day rest afforded to his over-worked bowlers would have been very welcome.
Highlighting mental weaknesses?
The underlying point herein though is the jibe at the England team. The visitors like to talk about how overcrowded their schedule is. So much so, they did not plan any tour games on Indian soil, deeming the two Tests played in Bangladesh as practice enough. Before Mumbai, Alastair Cook had already talked about the hectic schedule on four occasions in three Tests.
A never-ending international calendar is the grouse of every cricketer nowadays. And Kohli has got a point when he talked about affording rest to his touring team as well. The Indian team tends to play at breakneck speed, going away on three-month long tours to both England and Australia, while these teams play in halves. England play on either side of Christmas/New Year, while the Aussies only travel for Tests or One-Day Internationals alternately. It has been a standing practice for quite a few years now.
It can be argued that for any complaints regarding a hectic schedule, Kohli should go and speak with the Board of Control for Cricket in India. However, this argument overlooks the very point he is trying to make. Maybe the Indian players ask for such gaps, maybe they do not. It is a different debate. But other team/players surely do, and for someone like Kohli, who believes in the art of mental warfare, this was an acute attack on a perceived weakness.
In other words, he is implying – indirectly – that the English players are not mentally strong enough to overcome the challenges of an Indian tour in one go. So much so, they need not one, but two breaks to counter the conditions and the strength of this Indian team in their den.
Mumbai a scene of good memories for England
Everything said and done then, it puts great focus on England’s mini-break.
“Mentally and physically it does well on a long tour. We needed that break after three games,” said Cook, referring to the players’ mid-tour holiday in Dubai. His words pointed to a fresh start for England, but at a critical juncture in this series. They need to win in Mumbai or will surrender their recent wining-record against India in this format.
“It is quite nice coming to a ground where we have good memories. Historically Mumbai has been a good ground for us. So hopefully we can play well here, even if what happened in the past doesn’t count for much now,” Cook said, in reference to England’s series-turning victory here, on their 2012-’13 tour.
The words “doesn’t count for much now” are of prime importance herein. Simply put, this is a very different English team to the one that had travelled here four years ago. With the help of some audacious performances by Kevin Pietersen, Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, Cook was able to turn the tables on Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s ageing Indian team. With Kohli always on the prowl, it is no longer the current story.
Additionally, England’s batting is not exceptionally strong, and their current spinners do not hold a candle to their predecessors. This touring team might not be ageing, but they certainly are fatigued. They are in transition too, or standing at the cusp of it, with Cook nearing the end of his Test captaincy. It is as if they are waiting for an endpoint, so they can seek a new identity afterwards. Only, the waiting period is stretching out a bit too much. A series-loss here would be the first signs of discomfort with Cook’s leadership.
India’s mounting injury concerns
Coming back from 2-0 will not be easy, but England will surely have a helping hand from India’s mounting injury concerns. Mohammed Shami’s troublesome knee has ruled him out of this Test. Ajinka Rahane has also been ruled out, owing to a fracture on his right hand after he was hit in the nets on Wednesday. Shardul Thakur and Manish Pandey have been drafted in as replacements, but Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Karun Nair are expected to be picked ahead of them.
For India, KL Rahul’s return from injury is some good news. Rahane’s injury means that all permutations regarding Parthiv Patel opening again with only one full-time opener goes out of the window. Kohli will want as strong a batting line-up as possible for this match to avoid giving his opponents even a sniff.
England are expected to hand Keaton Jennings his Test debut and ask him to open with Cook, another new partner for the skipper. However, they will be more interested in the availability of Stuart Broad – who is still 50-50 in terms of fitness.
For, in no uncertain terms, a strong three-pronged pace attack is their best bet of upsetting India’s injury-ravaged apple cart.
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