Kohli & Kumble: A rhapsodic union

The chemistry between coach Kumble and skipper Kohli seems just right. The signs are promising for the Indian team ahead of what could be a long, gruelling home season.

Kohli and Kumble started their partnership with a Test series win over the West Indies.   -  G. P. Sampath Kumar

They are different personalities bound by a common trait — aggression on the arena. Anil Kumble, courteous and soft-spoken, played his cricket hard. You could see it in the manner he bounded in with the ball, appealed, celebrated a wicket or anguished over a fielding lapse.

Virat Kohli is a brash young man. Unlike Kumble, he has been involved in spats with the opposition, can be temperamental in his interactions with the media, and is someone who can get under the skin of the adversary with his gamesmanship.

Yet, Kohli’s heart, like Kumble’s, beats for the Indian team. And he too is a match-winner, can inspire and lift his team.

The chemistry between coach Kumble and skipper Kohli seems just right. The signs are promising for the Indian team ahead of what could be a long, gruelling home season.

 

With India scheduled to play 13 Tests in the coming months, including the home series against New Zealand, England and Australia, Kumble and Kohli are working in tandem.

A 2-0 Test series victory in the Caribbean against a weak, dispirited West Indian team may not be much of an achievement but at least marks a winning start to the Kumble-Kohli partnership. The battles against the Englishmen, the Aussies and the Kiwis could be harder even if India would be meeting them on familiar, spinner-friendly wickets.

India has the makings of a strong Test team, yet some pieces have to fall in place. Importantly, India will have to decide on its top order. There should be clarity about the Indian opening pair. The omission of Murali Vijay, India’s most accomplished opening batsman in the last three years and in the opinion of many its finest contemporary Test batsman, from the third Test at St. Lucia was shocking.

Once he was declared fit, Vijay should have walked into the Test side to partner the in-form K. L. Rahul. If the think tank was keen on retaining the inconsistent Shikhar Dhawan to preserve the right-left-combination, then Rahul could have come in at No. 3.

But in his eagerness to field Rohit Sharma, who continues to flounder in Tests, the skipper, on whom lies the responsibility of picking the XI, missed the wood for the trees.

India can ill afford such selection blunders in the forthcoming Test series. There needs to be stability at the top. Ideally, India should open with Vijay and Rahul, followed by Cheteshwar Pujara, Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane as the five specialist batsmen.

It was not too long ago that the dedicated Pujara’s century, a fine display of temperament and technique in tough conditions in the decider in Colombo, clinched an away Test series victory for India.

Pujara, in sharp contrast to the preferential treatment meted out to Rohit, has been judged rather harshly over the last 18 months, beginning with the series down under. In a line-up of stroke-makers, Pujara’s rate of scoring is not a big issue. On the other hand, his ability to stay and fight can be so effective in preventing collapses.

Five batsmen would be sufficient for India at home. It needs five bowlers, three of them spinners.

Actually, the best piece of news for India from the series in the West Indies was the success of R. Ashwin at No. 6. It was not just that Ashwin, tall and languid with the gift of timing, made two Test centuries, one of them in adversity. It was the manner in which he batted — with the confidence and mind-set of a specialist batsman — that confirmed his stature as a genuine all-rounder.

Impressive wicketkeeper-batsman Wriddhiman Saha also added weight and depth to batting with his feisty contributions that included a century.

With Ashwin and Saha pulling their weight with the willow, India will be able to pick the crucial fifth bowler. Such a side will have balance.

Ashwin, bowling with rhythm and belief, has worked on his flight and line. The influential off-spinner should relish bowling in home conditions. The manner he harnesses angles has been noteworthy.

Leg-spinner Amit Mishra, who imparts serious revolutions to the ball to get it to dip and spin, should prove a handful to the batsmen.

Ravindra Jadeja is a very useful bowler on home tracks where the ball grips. When the pitch deteriorates, the left-arm spinners, even a limited one such as Jadeja, can run through line-ups. And Jadeja’s adventurous ways with the willow down the order will lengthen India’s batting.

Left-arm chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav could be in the fray too. He is young and has a bag of tricks. He could just be the kind of bowler to unsettle visiting line-ups. Mohammad Shami’s comeback in the West Indies, after enduring a torrid period with fitness concerns, was a welcome development for India. His ability to reverse swing at sharp pace makes him a key bowler in the subcontinent conditions.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar, bowling with control, pace and swing, could be another seamer India might be optimistic about.

With Australia crumbling against spin in Sri Lanka and New Zealand rebuilding under the gifted Kane Williamson, England could prove India’s toughest foe during the season.

England, though, will be without Greame Swann and Monty Panesar, who helped the team to a dramatic series triumph in India the last time around.

This will be a season where, across series, much focus will be on the solidity and enterprise of men like Joe Root, Williamson and Steven Smith. For foreign batsmen, there are reputations to be made in Indian conditions. And who is to say that quality pacemen, the charismatic swing bowler Jimmy Anderson, the fast and skilful Mitchell Starc and the potent left-right pace combination of Trent Boult and Tim Southee would not buck the odds in India.

There, however, has been a decline in the quality of spin. Save Australian off-spinner Nathan Lyon, no spinner journeying to India this season can be considered a threat. If Moeen Ali is England’s No. 1 spinner, it does not speak much about the rest.

It promises to be a remarkable season. India will play its 500th Test, a momentous occasion, against New Zealand in Kanpur.

And Test cricket will travel to new centres in Indore, Dharamshala and Visakhapatnam. Smaller centres have their own charm.

Subcontinental conundrum beckons the visitors. On view will be the close cordon, the turning ball and the fielders appealing vociferously. Survival will be demanding.