India captain Virat Kohli’s constant tinkering has left pundits, fans, and former cricketers flummoxed during the South Africa series. Leaving out Ajinkya Rahane for the first Test and Bhuvneshwar Kumar for the second in particular, came for plenty of criticism.
Following India’s comprehensive defeat in the second Test at Centurion, Kohli outburst towards the press, and reports of him ruling the dressing room with an iron first didn’t do him any favours. This, despite scoring a beautifully crafted 153.
Batting maestro Sunil Gavaskar did not mince words at Kohli’s selection choices during the second Test, coming in the defence of Shikhar Dhawan, who made way for KL Rahul. “I think Shikhar Dhawan is the Bali ka Bakra [scapegoat]. His head is always on the chopping board. He just needs one bad innings and he is out of the team.
“I also don’t understand why Ishant [Sharma] came in for Bhuvneshwar [Kumar] when he had taken three wickets on the opening day at Cape Town. Ishant could have replaced Shami or Bumrah but leaving him out, I don’t understand.”
The battle of the pacers, though, did come to an end in the third Test at Johannesburg, where India decided to play all the four frontline fast bowlers they had picked on the tour.
Sanjay Manjrekar was measured with his criticism and called for Kohli to promote himself at no 3.
Don’t know if he a long-term option
Then, there was South Africa captain Graeme Smith, whose words raised some eyebrows in Indian circles. “I don’t know, when I look at him, if he is a long-term captaincy option for India,” Smith said. “As a leader you need to understand the whole environment, talk to the players to try to get the best out of the environment. He might grow as he learns to soften that a little bit.”
Former India captain Sourav Ganguly jumped to Kohli’s defence and called for the latter’s critics to show some patience, “With Graeme Smith, I’m not agreeable to that. It is his first overseas Test series as a captain,” the Cricket Association of Bengal chief said. “He is a young boy, not in terms of the number of Test matches he has played home or away, but in terms of the number of matches he has captained overseas. That is just two matches and I think it is a preety harsh statement. He will get better for sure once he goes to England and then to Australia, he will learn.”
Another former India captain, MS Dhoni, chose to harp on the positives on the tour, which has been the bowling arsenal picking up 20 wickets in both the Tests. “I would say look at the positives. To win a Test match you need 20 wickets and we have taken 20 wickets. If you can’t take 20 wickets, what is the next thing? You look to draw a Test match,” Dhoni said.
One of the famous voices of cricket, Michael Holding, gave his two cents on Kohli’s supposed clout in the dressing room, “There got to be discussions with the wiser heads from time to time, come to conclusions and flesh out different arguments. I get an impression that he is getting what he wants,” the West Indian bowling great said.
“He is very emotional about his cricket. He means everything he wants to do. In time he will learn. Because he has been so successful since he took over, it is hard for him to change.
Former opener Virender Sehwag’s classic wit took a backseat for a change during the second Test, and it was replaced with a stinging attack on Kohli’s selection choices, something that has been a subject of much debate. The Nawab of Najafgarh also subscribed to the notion that the team needed to have someone who would question Kohli on his decision-making, “I think, Virat Kohli needs some players who can point out his mistakes on the field. Every team has four-five players who advise the skipper and help him avoid mistakes on the field,” Sehwag said.
“I don’t see that in the current Indian squad. There’s no one in the squad who can challenge Kohli’s selection decision in the dressing room. No player is up to his standard.”
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