With Sachin Tendulkar out of the equation, Dhoni has his hands full in deciding who will bat at No.4 in Tests, though the choice is essentially between Kohli and Rohit Sharma. Perhaps, the ensuing ODI series that precedes the two Tests could throw a hint or two on the thought process as India begins a new journey into the unknown.
The majority of the players for the Test team pick themselves with Vijay and Dhawan opening, followed by Pujara at No.3. Dhoni would obviously keep his spot at No.6 or 7, depending on the bowling composition. Thus, it is whether Kohli should go ahead of Rohit or the other way around as the duo will certainly be in the eleven.
In my book, Kohli will bat at No.4, ahead of Rohit if only because the Delhi youngster can provide or sustain momentum far better than the Mumbai batsman who needs more time to settle down before playing shots. Kohli is far quicker off the blocks and has the kind of aggression that Sachin used to provide when situation required.
Dhoni was spot-on when he insisted that it was not so much about replacement as performing a role assigned to a player. Indeed, batsmen such as Dravid, Sachin, Laxman and Ganguly cannot be replaced nor did the foursome when they first came into the India squad. We have this obsession to compare players of different eras and thus get bogged down in trivialities or absurdities as also ensnared in meaningless hypotheses.
Hence, it is only proper that we look at Kohli as Kohli and not as a “replacement” for Sachin. The same applies to the likes of Pujara and Rohit. For the moment though it is about India successfully defending her No.1 ranking in ODI, but I suspect, Dhoni’s men will be put in the grinder by the South Africans before we get into the Test series.
The emergence of Rohit at the top of the order in the ODI has been quite the best thing to happen in Indian cricket and it is refreshing to see him shoulder responsibility with maturity that was missing earlier in his career. Given his abundant talent, it is hardly a surprise that Rohit has blossomed forth, something that was delayed needlessly due to his inability to counter the distractions that come with fame and fortune.
The slimmer version of Rohit is far more nimble on his feet and I think, the captaincy of Mumbai Indians has injected a sense of responsibility in him that is reflected in the manner in which he has been building his innings by eschewing impetuosity that had often cost him his wicket.
Likewise, Kohli too has grown in stature as a batsman, though I would like to see him in a calmer frame of mind by reigning in his aggression, especially while fielding. His abrasive behaviour at times can adversely affect his captaincy chances. He is presently approaching the peak of his batting prowess and it is to be hoped that he will keep his focus rather than get embroiled in on-field shenanigans.
In fact, given the pace and bounce of South African wickets, the Indians will be tested in their technique against the short-pitched deliveries besides movement, both off the seam and in the air. Morkel and Steyn would be the obvious key figures in the Proteas attack, and the duo is only too familiar with the Indian batsmen, courtesy the IPL.
In this regard, the Indian ODI bowling options might provide better balance in terms of the mix of pace and spin that could trouble the South Africans who in any case are under pressure after losing to Pakistan recently. The ODI series promises some fireworks, but the real examination of India’s capability would be the two Tests that will usher in a new, post-Tendulkar era.
Talking about Test series and fireworks, there is plenty of it emanating from Down Under where the Australia and England are at each other’s throats, literally. While there has been no shortage of “entertainment”, it is quite shocking that mature adults indulge in some tasteless tactics in the name of gamesmanship even as their antics are being telecast live.
The Aussies have done well to bounce back after the thrashing in England earlier this year. With so much acrimony going on, the Ashes series has captured the eyeballs, but it is debatable whether it is providing a good advertisement for the so-called gentleman’s game.