At one point during his defiant, unbeaten knock of 92, Dilruwan Perera was quite flustered. He was waiting to face Mohammed Shami when there was some movement behind the sightscreen at the Galle Fort end. Apparently there were two policemen standing next to the giant white sheets, both adorned in white shirts too. One of them moved as the batsman waved. The other stayed put.
Before the umpires or anyone else could get involved, Virat Kohli walked from his position at second slip and straight behind the batsman’s stumps, waving at the other policeman to move too. He got the message, and play resumed.
Did the Indian skipper need to get involved there? No. But this is Kohli you are talking about, an endless bundle of energy, almost as if his body is bursting with so much adrenaline that he needs to keep things ticking. It is a personal trait that rubs off on his captaincy as well – always in the face of opponents, whether batsmen or bowlers. Isn’t he the most joyous Indian fielder whenever a wicket falls?
Indeed, he revels in the success of his teammates. When batting with Abhinav Mukund later in the day, the opener pulled one to the fence during his second Test fifty, coming after six long years. Kohli had made his debut in that series in the West Indies in 2011, and look how far he has come in comparison. You wouldn’t see it on the field though, as Kohli raised his bat and pumped fists to enjoy and applaud Mukund’s feat.
Then, there is the fidgeting about with various field positions. If the complaint against MS Dhoni was that he was too passive as Test skipper, letting things drag on, Kohli is at the other extreme. Kohli’s mind is constantly ticking, as if countering his own bowlers in his head and then plugging gaps. Being a class batsman himself perhaps helps, therein.
A short spell to his bowlers is one of Kohli’s most important ploys. In the first hour of play on day three, for example, with Angelo Mathews and Perera defying the Indian attack, the Indian skipper used up his bowlers in spells of three overs. Ravindra Jadeja and Umesh Yadav started proceedings and both were taken off after only six overs between them. R Ashwin was then deployed from the other end, in tandem with Mohammed Shami, and the pacer again bowled only three overs.
It is not circumstantial that Kohli throws the kitchen sink at finding the optimal usage of his bowlers. The Ashwin-Jadeja combination was an ideal one, as it usually is, and the continued usage of spinners built up pressure on a wicket that was starting to take turn. That led to Mathews giving a simple catch, for the runs had dried up.
Or take Umesh Yadav’s over against Perera when the Lankan innings was nearing its end. The set batsman was clearly looking to slog away in hope of getting to his hundred. It sprung Kohli into action, as he made sure that the bowler had ample cover for the pull and then changed the setting around if Perera opted to farm strike. The Indian skipper makes a rejuvenated bid at every moment to out-think the opposition.
The follow-on debate
At this juncture, the narrative from day three comes around the follow-on debate. India gained a first innings’ lead of 309 runs and decided to bat again. “There was some talk in the dressing room, but there is a lot of time left in the Test. And the pitch is still good to bat on,” said Mukund, after scoring 81 runs in the second innings.
He obviously benefitted from India’s decision not to follow-on, as did Kohli, who was unbeaten on 76 runs at stumps, going past the 40-run mark for the first time in 8 innings. More than that though, this was the seventh occasion for captain Kohli to enforce the follow-on after his side has shot into a healthy first innings’ lead. It was the fifth time that he chose not to do so.
It is an increasingly familiar, predictable pattern that the Indian team management, under Kohli, has adopted. If there is still ample time in the Test, if the pitch hasn’t deteriorated enough, if the bowlers cannot be over-burdened, then the sum of all these parts is that India will bat again and swell the lead up further. It is no wonder then that Kohli’s win record is 100 percent every time he doesn’t enforce the follow-on and instead chooses to pile on the runs.
The question to ask here is if the Indian skipper believes that his bowlers need a cushion of runs behind him. In fact, Kohli did come face to face with this question on a few occasions in the recent home season, and he countered it with a simple answer: “We take out the possibility of one outcome when you put on a tall score on the board.”
Does strangling the opposition in such fashion count as aggression? Or does the never-ending in your face attitude, coupled with the never-ending bowling and fielding changes that one simply cannot keep track of?
The answer doesn’t really matter. For, whatever Virat Kohli does, it lightens up dull and uninspiring days of Test cricket such as Friday in Galle.