Virat Kohli: aggressive, ambitious!

Virat Kohli, as skipper, has the courage of conviction to pursue his plans to their logical conclusions and that has set him apart from the rest.

Virat Kohli puts his plans into operation and reaped rich benefits.   -  PTI

Kohli's men outplayed the South Africans and Hashim Amla was gracious in acknowledging India's superiority in the Test series.   -  K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

India’s comprehensive 3-0 series win over World No. 1 South Africa was not only a confirmation of the country’s rising status as a Test team, but it was also an emphatic statement about Virat Kohli’s growing stature as a Test captain.

No other Indian skipper has had such a bright start to his career as a leader. Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, Mohammad Azharuddin, Sourav Ganguly and Mahendra Singh Dhoni made their mark as captains adopting different approaches.

But none of them was as aggressive and ambitious as Kohli. The Delhi player has the courage of conviction to pursue his plans to their logical conclusions and that has set him apart from the rest.

Like Pataudi, Azharuddin or Ganguly, Kohli, backed by the like-minded team director Ravi Shastri, is in favour of sticking to India’s traditional strength of spin bowling to win matches. But Kohli is different in declaring the team’s preference for playing on spin-friendly pitches without an iota of hesitation.

The current Indian side believes that if teams such as England, South Africa, Australia or New Zealand can prepare grassy tracks to suit their bowlers, why cannot India take advantage of their strength while playing at home?

With Mohali and Nagpur rolling out rank turners, pitch-talk dominated the whole of the four-match Test series between India and South Africa. The hosts left the visiting batsmen in a spin as the Indian spinners, led by the devastating Ravichandran Ashwin, wreaked havoc on dry strips.

With his magical off-spin bowling, Ashwin captured 31 wickets in seven innings. Left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja claiming 23 and leg-spinner Amit Mishra, who was employed as an impact spinner, picking up seven summed up the home spinners’ domination in the series.

As batsmen of the two teams struggled to score runs in Mohali and Nagpur and the matches ended inside three days, the pitches attracted criticism for being too brittle. The Nagpur track was rated ‘poor’ by match referee Jeff Crowe.

The critics, however, remained silent about the South African batters’ lack of application in the washed-out Bengaluru Test or in the first innings of the Delhi Test.

In Delhi, a young curator, Ankit Datta, provided the best playing surface of the series. Barring its slowness, which demanded perseverance from both the batsmen and the bowlers, the pitch ensured that runs were scored and wickets were taken. The match at the Ferozeshah Kotla lasted for five days.

The series had not seen a century till then. Ajinkya Rahane struck two to become the fifth Indian to score a hundred in each innings of a Test. His excellent effort helped the home side set an improbable target of 481 runs for the Proteas.

The way the Indian bowlers sustained the pressure for two days against a determined South African batsmen — who in search of a draw performed the art of blocking like the days of yore and walked into the record books for playing one of the slowest innings in the history of Test cricket — was exemplary. They finally got the desired result and changed the perception that India could win matches only on doctored pitches.

“We believe we can win against any opposition at any place in the world. Now how that will be presented is not in our control. We can only control our performance with the bat and the ball,” asserted Kohli, after leading India to a massive win in his backyard.

The record 337-run win in the fourth Test might look to be a convincing victory for India. But considering the immense resistance from the South African batsmen, led by their captain Hashim Amla and the larger-than-life AB de Villiers, the win can easily be rated as one of the toughest in the history of Indian cricket.

It ensured India’s biggest ever Test series win over South Africa and helped them jump to the second spot in world rankings.

Since taking over as the Test captain Kohli has been trying to inculcate a winning habit in the team and has won two of three series. Other than bagging his first home series as captain, the historic win in Sri Lanka earlier this year has been a major highlight of Kohli’s successful journey so far.

“Credit to the team for showing character and bouncing back in the last two series. It all began in Australia. We showed character even in defeats. That gave us a lot of belief as a Test team. We took it to Sri Lanka. We had a few plans that we needed in order to do well,” he said.

And Kohli was not bothered about the dip in India’s world ranking then. “Rankings do not matter to me. Neither does it matter to the squad. If we keep performing well, obviously the rankings will go up,” he said.

The other facet of Kohli’s captaincy is the mutual trust he shares with various members of the squad. Eventhough he has been an ardent supporter of the six-batsman-five-bowler strategy, the Indian captain fielded combinations as per the situations.

Even though Amit Mishra provided Kohli some crucial breakthroughs in the series, the skipper did not hesitate to drop the experienced spinner in the Bengaluru and the Delhi Tests in favour of an all-rounder, Stuart Binny, and a pacer, Umesh Yadav, respectively.

In fact, the inclusion of Umesh in Delhi turned out to be a masterstroke as the speedster bowled two exceptional spells in both innings to pick up some quick wickets and shift the momentum in favour of the home team.

Kohli’s best trait is that he is a good student of the game. His 154-run partnership with Rahane, when India were 57 for four in the second innings, at the Ferozeshah Kotla was an example of his futuristic approach. “We discussed that although we are up in the series, we need to enjoy and learn from this situation for future games. If we bat through this situation and build a big partnership, that will give us confidence in crunch games as well,” said Kohli.

His opposite number Amla was gracious enough to compliment the hosts on the great triumph. “Credit to India, they batted really well and outplayed us in this series. They certainly deserve the series victory,” said the Proteas skipper. Truly, under Kohli’s leadership, India came out with flying colours against South Africa.