Virat Kohli’s phenomenal impact on Indian cricket is significantly a lot more than statistics, however impressive those numbers might seem. He has injected into Indian cricket a different mindset, the sort which hasn’t been seen for a long, long time. The substantial double century he slammed on Friday night was an emphatic endorsement of that aggressive, no-holds bar mindset.
For many years now Indian captains have gone into a Test match with just four bowlers. While that number would have been considerable on turning tracks where the ball would play tricks on the batsmen, the rest of the time it was a defensive move and a veritable surrender to the opposition.
It straight away conveyed to the opposition that the team was not sure of its batsmen and hence needed an extra batsman to cover up for their shortcomings. A terrible consequence of this was having to compromise on the bowling attack and virtually defanging it.
Various captains from Mohammad Azharuddin, Saurav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, et al followed the strategy. Their safety- first mentality rubbed off on the rest of the team and it made the team defensive and apologetic everywhere, except in India.
Kohli, though, is cast in a different mould. He had given an insight to his aggressive leadership in Australia last year where he almost always sought to put the opponents under the cosh.
His choice of team for the first Test against West Indies at Antigua is a continuation of that aggressive mindset. There is little doubt that the strategy to attack with five frontline bowlers would have been entirely his.
The Indian think tank might have been tempted to play all rounder Ravindra Jadeja as the fifth bowler, but that would have sent a defensive message. Jadeja could be devastating on crumbling tracks, but otherwise he is a pretty ordinary spinner. Kohli would have vetoed the idea of fielding a part-time bowler and instead pushed for five specialist bowlers. And having done that he would have had to ensure that he could walk the talk.
And how brilliantly he did just that.
Winning the toss and opting to bat first on a pitch that had a bit of juice early on the opening day was a huge positive statement. He virtually threw down the gauntlet at the feet of his batsmen: Take on the new ball on a fresh pitch, he challenged them.
Perhaps the only concession that Kohli the skipper made was going in to bat at number four. True he has had great success at that number in the batting order. But these days Kohli is at the peak of his prowess and needs to maximise it for his team and his success by batting at number three.
Traditionally the best batsman in the side, unless he was an opener, walked out to bat at number three: Don Bradman, Ricky Ponting, Viv Richards, Brian Lara, Ian Chappell, et al. There might have been some exceptions, like Sachin Tendulkar deferring to Rahul Dravid. But generally successful teams bent on capitalising on the form and brilliance of their best batsmen and send him at number three.
At Antigua, it was apparent as soon as Kohli walked out to bat that he was in a different league from Cheteshwar Pujara and Shikhar Dhawan, though both are no slouches with the bat.
Kohli, who had had incredible success opening the batting at the T20 IPL, showed through his brilliance that he was at home both in the shortest and longest formats of the game.
The early loss of Murali Vijay and Pujara could have put the team in a bit of a bother. But Kohli snatched the Test away from the West Indies by completely dominating the 105-run stand with Dhawan. Later, Ajinkya Rahane’s cheap dismissal paved the way for yet another emphatic Kohli statement.
He thrust responsibility on Ravichandran Ashwin, almost demanding that he step up and don the mantle of the team’s all rounder. He promoted him above Wriddhaman Saha and with that move, told Ashwin that he had the confidence in his ability to rise to the challenge.
And how refreshing it was to see the young Indian cricketers responding so positively to their skipper’s vision for the team.
Kohli’s double hundred, his first in first class cricket, not only showed the way, but also ensured that he had now come good in all countries that he has played in, excepting England. He did not taste too much success in his previous tour of the West Indies. But this double ton sets that record straight.
But more that his maiden double ton or 12 Test tons, it is Kohli’s brazen take-no-prisoner attitude that will shape the fortunes of this Indian team. Hopefully the best is yet to come.