There are two caps that Virat Kohli wears at all times on the cricket field.
The first cap belongs to Kohli the batsman... a man who is the master of his art; a man who seems to have no equals in world cricket; a man who will be recognised as one of the greatest by history.
The second cap belongs to Kohli the captain... a man who wants his team to win; a man who pushes his team to be aggressive; a man who wants his side to make history.
That Kohli the batsman is operating on a different plane was pretty much evident from the manner in which he went about tackling the Perth wicket. While the pitch seemed to force other players to adapt and be respectful, Kohli seemed to just have an extra gear.
He was conservative but that was because he wanted to be, not because he had to be. There was something for the bowlers there throughout, but such was Kohli’s control and ease in the middle that Australia looked a little lost there.
The manner in which he sets up for shots has been spoken about at length, his positive approach gets talked about a lot as well, but perhaps the most impressive thing about his batting is his mental resolve. Few batsmen around the world make the switch between formats as successfully as Kohli, and that comes down to his mental discipline.
It’s almost as if he tells himself that there are certain shots for certain formats. During the course of his innings on Sunday, he hit his first six in Test cricket since the Birmingham Test. There were 1455 balls in between the two and a lot of runs but his restraint and understanding of what shot to play and which ones to avoid is fabulous. This is precisely what KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and so many other players struggle with. But Kohli makes it look easy. He just manages to shut shots out.
His wicket came unexpectedly and will attract a lot of debate as well. Did Peter Handscomb get his fingers under the ball or did he grass it?
The soft signal was out so the umpires thought he was gone as well but in a match that might go down to the wire, Kohli’s wicket was a big, big moment.
And it was his wicket that quickly brought his other cap into sharp focus.
At the fall of Kohli’s wicket, Ishant Sharma walked out to join Rishabh Pant in the middle. India’s tail has never been longer in recent times. They always had a Ravichandran Ashwin or Bhuvneshwar Kumar to offer some support to the batsmen. But in this match, with so much talk about the grass on the wicket in the build-up, India chose to go into the match with four fast bowlers who can’t bat much.
Over the last two years, Jadeja has averaged 49.83 (598 runs) with the bat and 21.78 (84 wickets) with the ball. And with Ashwin injured, he still didn’t get a game despite the possibility of him lending a better balance to the unit.
Both teams lost their sixth wicket with the score on 251. Australia ended up with 326 while India ended up with 283. In this series so far, the batsmen between 8-11 for Australia have faced 449 balls and scored 206 runs at an average of 22.88. The corresponding figures for India are – 197 balls, 60 runs at an average of 6.66.
A huge and vital difference that once again points to India’s flawed playing XI selection.
Kohli was praised by many for his decision to play six batsmen at Adelaide but with both Ashwin and Rohit Sharma missing, India desperately needed to shore up their batting line-up. Hanuma Vihari was a perfect replacement for Rohit but by opting for Umesh Yadav instead of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, the Indian skipper would’ve known he was taking a big risk... a risk that hasn’t paid off yet.
The other aspect of the decision was that India didn’t have a spinner in the mix. Yes, Vihari can bowl spin and he has been pretty decent but he isn’t of the same calibre as Ashwin or Jadeja. So while Nathan Lyon ended up with outstanding figures of 34.5-7-67-5 in the first innings, India just didn’t have a good enough option to fall back on.
In the second innings, Vihari only came on to bowl in the 32nd over of the innings. He bowled a defensive line for most part, almost got Usman Khawaja and he ended the day with bowling figures of 8-4-11-0. Just imagine what a better bowler might have done?
When Lyon was asked in the press conference at the end of the day whether India made a mistake by not playing a spinner, he answered with an emphatic “Yes!”. Now, part of it might be gamesmanship but there is no mistaking the fact that Australia have the advantage at this point.
A lead of 175 is good but if they can put on another 60-70 runs, then Kohli the captain will need Kohli the batsman to come to his rescue again. It shouldn’t have to always come down to that and better selection could have helped.