Just two losses but Virat Kohli must feel like the knives are out for him.
BCCI sources are talking about his unchecked power, the selectors want in on the game a little more, former players are criticising his tactics as captain, the press conferences are that little bit more feisty and all of this is happening after just two losses.
Captaining India has never been a bed of roses and Kohli is quickly finding out why there is a shelf life to this position. No one, not even Mahendra Singh Dhoni or Sourav Ganguly, were exempt from the pressures of captaincy and neither will the current skipper.
Another loss and who knows what might happen. It could make a rock solid captaincy a little shaky; it could make questioning Kohli’s captaincy fair game and it could make sure his power won’t remain as absolute anymore. It will also make one wonder – how much longer before all this talk starts affecting Kohli’s batting?
And that will really set the cat among the pigeons.
Some might argue that the series is lost; that there is not much at stake when India play South Africa at Johannesburg on Wednesday. It’s just a dead rubber. But a 3-0 result will have huge implications on Kohli’s captaincy.
Ravi Shastri believes that India played like a ‘World No 1’ side in the first two Tests but he will have a hard time making the rest of India believe how the world’s best team was blanked out when the series included not just green tops but also a very ‘Indian’ wicket.
There is also the small matter of no Indian team having ever lost all matches of a Test series in South Africa and that alone makes this anything but a dead rubber from an Indian perspective. This is not the history Kohli and his team wanted to create.
Picking the XI
It will probably take a few more ‘away’ series losses to dent Kohli’s immense confidence but it will place him on notice. It should. For now, he will shut this out and concentrate on the task of picking his next playing XI. Given how contradictory his calls are, it won’t be an easy choice to make.
Back in the fray will be ‘vice-captain’ Ajinkya Rahane, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Shikhar Dhawan and Dinesh Karthik. Will Kohli decide to change the playing XI again? That much is a given.
Rahane had an extensive net session and conditions in Johannesburg might suit Bhuvneshwar more than Ashwin. Parthiv Patel’s disappointing performance behind the stumps might open the door for Karthik. But with Kohli you’ll never know - his reasons for picking someone are his alone.
In the press conference after losing the second Test, Kohli had this to say about the choices he makes: “Look when something doesn’t work, obviously it’s going to be spoken against. We are pretty used to that. We as a team don’t think of what the opinion going around is, and I’ve clarified that before also. There are many people that are involved in making a decision for the playing XI.
“A lot was spoken about Bhuvi as well but Shami performed in this game. So now no one is talking about that. So you know it’s all about whoever goes out on the field and performs. We obviously look at the conditions that we are playing in and we decide as a management group and the captain myself sitting together, that what is the best XI that we can take on the field. And then we don’t sit back and think ‘Oh we could have done that or we should have done that’. You make one decision and you back it. It’s always that scenario.”
As proven earlier, it might be wise to not read too much into Kohli’s words but for now, it seems like he is happy with the way Shami performed. Ishant and Bumrah were good too. So will Bhuvneshwar — India’s best bowler from the first Test — still find his way into the squad?
Similarly, Rohit seemed to find some touch in the second innings of the second Test where he scored a gritty 47. Will the team not back him now? Will they get in Rahane from the cold?
For most part, it seems like the failure of the batting line-up to fire might give Rahane his ticket back into the playing XI. Ashwin will probably be dropped and the Mumbai batsman will make his way into the XI to shore up a batting line-up that has looked fragile at the best of times. Between Rohit Sharma and Murali Vijay, the Indian team should be able to find a few overs of spin if need be.
KL Rahul should still hold on to his slot. The ball does move around at Jo’burg and Dhawan’s technique makes him a natural liability. But it would also mean that India’s batting line-up will consist of only right-handers.
As things stand, my playing XI would see just two changes: Rahane in for Ashwin and Karthik in for Parthiv.
India’s probable playing XI: KL Rahul, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Dinesh Karthik, Hardik Pandya, Mohammad Shami, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah.
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