Hailed by many as the ‘last of the Mohicans’ in cricket’s purest format, Virat Kohli will be keen to make his 100th appearance memorable as ‘white ball legend’ Rohit Sharma plots the demolition of a Sri Lankan out of depth like India. 35th Test captain in the series opener from here Friday.
Looking back on the journey of the Indian team since its inception in international cricket in 1932, it is stars, superstars and megastars, which become the reason for passing through the turnstiles of various stadiums across the country.
Such was the case when Sunil Gavaskar scored his 10,000th run, Sachin Tendulkar bid the most emotional farewell cricket has ever seen and now the spotlight will be firmly on Kohli, whose dominating presence turned an international fixture into a note footer.
Kohli is one of “them” and in a rapidly changing world, perhaps the latest cricketing star who will enjoy an organic following of maniacal fans.
India was, is and will remain more of a ‘cricketer-loving’ nation and the social media war cry that may have led to fans being allowed into the stadium from Friday is testament to the immense popularity by Kohli.
It’s his “test” and for Kohli, a century to mark a “century” is something he would crave, having missed that sense of accomplishment that has accompanied a three-figure mark for over two years now.
A bowling attack that has the likes of Suranga Lakmal, Lahiru Kumara or Lasith Embuldeniya is perfect for a sumptuous “five course” Kohli treat with cover discs, discs, movies and draws on the menu.
Gavaskar and Tendulkar couldn’t, nor a Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid or VVS Laxman but Kohli is a different beast.
The empty amphitheater was never meant for him. He feeds on the energy of his fans, and as the undisputed hero of his story, he always finds an antagonist, whom he tries to kill.
It’s a product of modern times, which loves the spotlight and the spotlight has always loved it back.
However, each story has its own set of subtexts and this test match is as much a Kohli story as it is about Rohit and his remarkable rise shedding light on the ideas and patterns set.
The adventure begins for the Rohit team
They say: “A good captain, is a good captain, is a good captain”. Everyone knows Roht’s credentials in white ball cricket, especially IPL where he even challenged the hegemony of the incomparable Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
There is no frame of reference to judge its quality in a game that is played over five days for six hours.
He is 34 years old and will surely not play white ball cricket for more than three years in a row with a busy schedule.
How he is handling a transition phase in Indian cricket, which began with curtains on the careers of Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Ishant Sharma. will have a huge impact on how he is perceived – just a mere captain or leader of men.
Does he have the ability to control the ebb and flow of a Test match where a session changes the complexion or a long partnership can induce frustration? The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating and we can only wait to see how he reacts to the entirely different dynamics of five-day cricket as captain.
Skipper’s team suit
Rohit’s tactical acumen has always earned him respect from all walks of life and the first reflection of this in Test cricket would be the way he manages his playing XI.
Shubman Gill is expected to come in at number three in the spot vacated by Pujara and will have to show the ‘intention’ that was missing before. Gill has the game to do it.
The delicate position will be the other intermediate slot that Rahane has appropriated for the longest time.
There are two candidates and both are deserving. Indian cricket’s newest fireman Hanuma Vihari has always been sent to bat in tough conditions overseas and hasn’t done badly at all. And that makes him a deserving candidate for a fair streak of Test matches.
The other is Shreyas Iyer, a very flashy hitter but with some technical glitches, including issues against the short ball. He made a good start in Test matches with a hundred debuts against New Zealand.
Vihari, if we trust the pecking order, could be this second man of intermediate order, which brings this defensive solidity which is sometimes necessary. It also helps that he has a great record against spinners.
But there could be a tactical move to send Rishabh Pant down to number five, as he could then face Sri Lanka’s first left-arm spinner, Embuldeniya.
The formation of the Lankan hitters is heavily dependent on skipper Dimuth Karunaratne as well as former guards Dinesh Chandimal and Angelo Mathews, both well past their prime.
How they handle Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja on a pitch that will be dry after being baked by the sun is a million dollar question.
In a nutshell, one can expect a four day finish if India beats first and even earlier if they beat second.
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Posted: Thursday March 3rd 2022, 10:43 AM IST