Indian captain Virat Kohli, on Wednesday, hinted that the side might opt for four bowlers for the first Test against West indies that will be played at Antigua from Thursday. He stressed that the decision is not binding and will be taken keeping in mind the conditions on offer.
“It’s more or less a choice between three quicks and a spinner, or two quicks and two spinners,” he said on the eve of the game. “Last time England played here, there was quite a bit of variable bounce so all those factors come into play. We’re very flexible and open at the moment about the combination.
“The good thing is everyone looks good, confident of skill sets. It’s a comforting thing as a captain to understand that all players are ready and at full fitness and in good head space as well. So according to conditions, you’re able to pick the 11 you want. We’re in a good space to take that call. Everyone got a good outing with bat and ball in the warm up match, especially for the guys who came in and hadn’t played a lot of cricket on this tour. These tour games are important to have a match situation and execute your skills.”
Team India, if they play four bowlers, will also have to make an important call as far as the middle order is concerned. Hanuma Vihari, who has impressed in his limited chances is in the fray for a spot in the batting line-up, but he will face competition from Rohit Sharma, who has not been at his best in the longer formats.
“It depends on the combination we want to go with. Vihari has done really well, since he came in he has gone through two difficult tours,” said Kohli. “Rohit has also done well in Melbourne. It all depends on what combinations we want to go with. Vihari also gives a few overs, he’s a solid player. Rohit’s quality we all know, we’ve been seeing it for years. It’s about who provides the best balance in the XI we want to choose. I’m just happy about guys grabbing the opportunities. As long as there is healthy competition for starting the game or contributing for the team, it’s a great thing for Indian cricket. We’re all happy about having a problem of plenty.”
With only two specialist openers in the ranks – Mayank Agarwal and KL Rahul – Kohli went on to add that though the opening slot has been a bone of contention for the Men in Blue in the longer formats, the two batters picked have plenty of experience, and can rise to the occasion. He also urged the senior players to raise their hands up.
“We’re senior players and we want to take the bulk of the load, that’s why we are in those positions as senior batsmen, along with Jinks (Ajinkya Rahane),” he explained. “The three of us have been playing for a while. We want to control that middle order and take load off the other players. The opening combination, we’ve picked only two openers in the squad. The idea is to give them four innings, let them express themselves and come into their own. Mayank has done really well, KL has performed in the past and looking forward to making things count at the Test level again.
“At the end of the day, it’s about the team. In Melbourne, Mayank and Vihari opened – Vihari scored only 18-20 runs but batted for 85 balls, tells you that it’s all about the team. He handled the situation so well that me and Pujara could go out there and bat the way we did, Pujara went on to score a century. These small contributions are not recognised, but we have markers set as a team as to what to expect of certain batting positions. It’s up to them to capitalise.”
He concluded by saying that the most crucial part of playing an overseas Test is to bounce back after a poor session. He pointed to the loss at Perth in December last year, and mentioned that the strength of the team to highlight their flaws, correct them and come back stronger is what has led to their success.
“We need to continue the good work we did in Australia. From England we learned damage control was very important, we can’t lose six wickets in a session. That way you have no comeback possible in a Test match when you’re playing quality sides,” he said. “Every team knows how to take wickets and capitalise sessions. We’ll have to be precise, if we lose a couple of wickets we have to be professional and disciplined, let the situation get better. Test cricket is all about learning the right to play well in a situation, and make it favourable for yourself. You can’t go out there and try to dominate a situation when it’s stacked up against you. You have to show discpline. We did that in Australia, that’s why we won. It’s all about continuing that now.
“The loss at Perth gave us a pretty fair idea of what we needed to do in terms of going into the next Test in Melbourne, how we had to approach the game. That’s why we ended up winning that important Test and drew in Sydney to win the series. We knew we had to be at our absolute best to win a series there. It’s all about correcting your mistakes very fast and learning quickly from the losses. That’s what the Test championship will bring as well. There will be losses, draws and victories, so the team that learns from it quickly and improves are going to be the most consistent. We’ve learned quite a bit. We’ve learned composure, need to capitalise situations, control damage when things are stacked up against us. That’s most important.”