Kohli-led India ready to carve its own niche

Team India, with 18 victories in the last 25 contests, has successfully overcome transition-blues. Perhaps, Virat Kohli's men are ready to carve their own niche.

Virat Kohli and his boys have a lot of overseas Tests ahead of them. But the core group has enough long-form games in its armour.   -  AP

In an age of instant fixes, be it Twitter or two-minute noodles, a young Indian cricket team has steadily acquired the weight of experience. It started with Virat Kohli playing his 50th Test against England at Visakhapatnam in November, 2016. Since then he was joined by two team-mates – Murali Vijay in March and Ravichandran Ashwin, last week.

India’s 50-Test club will have its latest member when Cheteshwar Pujara plays the next game between India and Sri Lanka at the Sinhalese Sports Club here from Thursday. That the core group has enough long-form games in its armour augurs well for the nucleus of the squad.

Read: Chandimal joins Sri Lanka squad ahead of second Test

Ever since India played its first Test against England at Lord’s in 1932, 289 players, including the latest debutant Hardik Pandya, represented the country in the sport’s classical format. In that long list, only 30 have played 50 Tests or more with Sachin Tendulkar being the big daddy - 200 appearances.

Longevity in Tests demands quality and consistency over many years. In the last decade and a half, it also required the ability to withstand the scrutiny of rivals leaning on video-cum-data analysts, who dissect a player’s technique and approach, thread-bare.

Interestingly in the current Indian dressing room, head coach Ravi Shastri, albeit retired, has played the maximum at 80. Next man is speedster Ishant Sharma (77) followed by Kohli (58). Beneath Vijay, Ashwin and Pujara, are the likes of Ajinkya Rahana (38), Umesh Yadav (32) and Ravindra Jadeja (31).  

All these players had the unenviable task of stepping into the massive shoes of the previous generation, a 100-Test bastion featuring Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, V. V. S. Laxman, Anil Kumble, Sourav Ganguly, Harbhajan Singh and Virender Sehwag. Add to it, Zaheer Khan (92) and M. S. Dhoni (90) and the previous group’s benchmark for excellence was truly mind-boggling.

The increasing number of Tests that members of the present squad have collectively played and the 18 victories in the last 25 contests, including the latest at Galle, and the losses, a minuscule two, effectively mean that Kohli’s men have successfully overcome transition-blues. Perhaps, they are ready to carve their own niche.

India, the number one Test squad, has fine representation in the ICC’s individual charts too. Pujara and Kohli are present among the top-five batsmen, and Ashwin and Jadeja are there in two lists – bowlers and all-rounders. “A lot of people have put their hands up and we have become a pretty good unit. Sometimes I feel that even good cricketers lose out (on selection) in this particular team because of the quality we have in the dressing room,” Ashwin said recently.

Last season was all about having a bull run at home. But the one in progress is predominantly overseas-based and the accumulation of experience within the ranks, should bolster the team. It was a point Pujara stressed: “It (the experience) will make a big difference because as a team, you want players who are experienced enough. When we first toured South Africa, New Zealand and England, we were a young team, we didn’t know what to expect from the opposition and sometimes we also didn’t know about what were our strengths in such conditions. But now when we go back, we will have a clear game-plan. Our bowlers will know which areas to bowl and even as a batting unit, we will be very confident and clear with our strategies. I think having that experience of playing more Test matches will help us.”

Sri Lanka for now and South Africa later, are all part of a packed schedule. Kohli’s men have a lot on their plate. In the recent past, they got a lot of things right. The only blemish being the way some of them rebelled against the then head coach Anil Kumble. Perhaps that too is a lesson learnt and a part of the experience-tapestry.

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