Assertive Kohli needs influential coach to back him (Column: Just Sport)

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Virat Kohli has entered a phase in his cricketing life where he has started asserting himself as captain both on and off the field.

He appears to have succeeded in getting a coach of his choice whereas he is clearly in a dilemma whether to back the two senior most teammates Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh for the 2019 World Cup.

The convention is that a captain can always ask for one player of his choice and if he has to do it he may settle for Dhoni for more than one reason, going by his public defence of the wicketkeeper-batsman. Even Dhoni wouldn’t have been able to defend himself for playing his slowest ODI knock in a perfectly suited situation for him as a finisher in the fourth one-day International match against West Indies.

Winning the series against a second grade, some even called it third eleven, was never in doubt, but to make heavy weather of it, and even losing a match, was surprising. The inexplicable loss, coming on the heels of the Champions Trophy reverse, triggered cries for overhauling the squad.

His two dropped catches in the fifth ODI notwithstanding, Dhoni as of now still looks the best bet to be in the World Cup squad which is likely to carry more than one wicketkeeper. In West Indies there were three wicketkeepers in the squad, two of them, Dinesh Karthik and Rishab Pant for their batting. By then Lokesh Rahul will also be back and Sanju Thomson is among the short-listed by the national selectors.

Yuvraj’s fitness is going to be a major issue as he doesn’t or not required to bowl much these days and he is no longer a livewire on the field. He has to be in exceptionally good form with the bat to force his way into the squad, not on the immense faith captain has in his match-winning ability.

The problem is Kohli wants to give the two seniors a long rope whereas some others want, Rahul Dravid in particular, youngsters to be tried out before going back to Dhoni and Yuvraj. Obviously, Dravid has a clear idea about the youngsters under his charge as national junior coach.

It is going to be a tough call for both Kohli as well as selectors when they sit down with the new coach to pick the squads for the full tour of Sri Lanka in eight years, with three Tests, five ODIs and one Twenty20 game.

Kohli is also confronted with questions about his ultra aggressive captaincy and not so consistent batting spells. All told he will have a tough time sorting out these vital aspects of his cricket.

What he may not appreciate is people calling his team paper tigers overseas and tigers only at home, like in the not too distant past. Also, he may not have been amused at comparing his side’s fielding with that of the women’s team playing in the ongoing World Cup — an allusion to his boys missing a few crucial run-outs in the Champions Trophy final against Pakistan and the girls pulling off four run-outs in their stunning victory over England.

Kohli’s handling of chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav on the tour of the Caribbean makes it difficult to believe that he had opposed his inclusion in the series against Australia in the first three Tests against the wishes of coach Anil Kumble and was played only in the last Test at Dharamsala when he sat out injured.

Kohli had even dropped Ravichandran Ashwin to accommodate Kuldeep, though he is unwilling to go without Ravindra Jadeja’s exceptional fielding even if his bowling and batting have dropped quite a bit in the ODI’s. It looks like a rerun of Sourav Ganguly’s captaincy days when he preferred to play Harbhajan Singh instead of Kumble overseas, leading to friction between the two.

Every captain has to deal with headstrong players who question their omission from the eleven. Some of the dressing room fights were ugly but they did not harm the team’s interests when they were out in the middle.

Unlike, Ganguly, Kumble and Dhoni, who had to handle some of the greats of contemporary cricket, Kohli is lucky that all the present stalwarts are either his contemporaries or got into the team a little later.

Most of the differences in any team are performance related. If some senior players are doing well, they try to assert themselves in the selection of the eleven and even recommend the case of a promising player he has faith in to the captain.

It is clear now that Kohli needs a coach who recognises his pre-eminence and backs his daredevilry. His choice is an open secret and he got it endorsed by the people who matter.

(The writer is a veteran commentator. He can be reached at [email protected])

–IANS

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