Not a day passes by without someone talking about Virat Kohli’s planned paternity leave. Perhaps it is to be expected because the Indian skipper’s absence from that batting line-up is a hole that cannot easily be filled.
The Indian skipper averages 53.62 after 86 Tests and by sheer force of personality, he can often change the course of a Test match. His record in Australia is very good too – in 12 Tests Down Under, he has scored 1274 runs including six hundreds at an average of 55.39. Take him out of the line-up and there is a space that Australia’s bowlers will be happy to exploit.
Indeed, the question on everybody’s mind is whether India, without Kohli (who will return from the tour after the first Test at Adelaide), still has a chance of winning the Test series in Australia.
Former India skipper Sunil Gavaskar, for one, believes the other Indian batsmen will rise to the occasion.
“If you actually have a look, India have won every time Virat wasn’t there, be it the Dharamshala Test against Australia, the Afghanistan Test, Nidahas Trophy or the Asia Cup in 2018,” Gavaskar told The Times of India. “Indian players do tend to raise their game when he is not around. They understand they have to make up for his absence.”
A big chunk of the responsibility will fall on the veterans – Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara but Gavaskar feels the selectors should name the person who will take charge as skipper in Kohli’s absence.
“It’s going to be tough for Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara,” Gavaskar added. “Both these players have to bat out of their skin. Captaincy will actually help Rahane. He will feel a lot more secure and in control of situations. The selection committee is clear about who should lead in Virat’s absence and he has done well as a Test captain.”
And finally as good as Kohli has been in Australia, India’s historic series triumph on their last visit was built around two things – the bowling and Pujara’s stubborn resistance.
Pujara scored 521 runs in India’s series-winning tour Down Under in 2018-19. It wasn’t just the runs that mattered though. He batted 1258 deliveries for those runs and in his own way, he broke the back of the Australian attack.
They were exhausted by the time the last Test came around and mentally, they weren’t in the battle anymore. Of late, there has been some criticism of the pace at which Pujara scores, his career strike-rate is just 46.18, but Gavaskar believes it is best to just let him be.
“Pujara should be allowed to play the game he knows best,” said Gavaskar. “That’s what got him here. You don’t tamper with a player’s natural aptitude or temperament. Like you never told Sehwag how to play, nobody should be telling Pujara how to get runs as long as he is getting the runs and the hundreds.”
Gavaskar added: “If he is let alone and no pressure is put on him, that’s going to work in India’s favour. He is so rock steady, the others can score around him and play shots.”