India has found a cricketing leader after Dhoni, who is now fully prepared to provide leadership across all the three formats. He is ready to shoulder the responsibility of the Indian cricket for the coming years and take it to dizzying heights
Mumbai gives us an infectious energy. People over here, move on in life-undaunted by the crumbling infrastructural limitations, struggles in their daily lives and natural and man made setbacks. This has been the strength of the city over the years. In the first week of December, both India and England teams landed in the city with the similar intention of moving on in life. India under Virat Kohli, were clinical in their performance in this series. But their record against England in the recent past haunted them. English cricket team under Alastair Cook, by their own standards had a dismal series. But after their brief break, they wanted to start afresh from their own hunting ground. By the time the test match ended- India had indeed moved on. Though, this was the first time that in a test match being played in Mumbai, not even a single player from the city featured in the playing eleven, but like its intrinsic nature the city gave an intrinsic message written all across the wall. Under a strong leader, the nucleus of the Indian team for the future is ready. England was still stuck there. Certainly in this series and if they want to move on from here, they need to solve their leadership issues at the earliest.
Mumbai as a city has got unmatchable cricketing legacy. One of the unforgettable ones was on the night of 2nd April, 2011. The greatest cricketing icon from the city, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, had virtually all the batting records in his name. But he was yet to fulfill his ultimate dream-the dream which was the genesis of his entry in the international cricket. The Bandra man wanted to be the part of the world cup winning team. India’s most
successful limited over captain in history, MS Dhoni clobbered that six as a fitting finale to fulfill the master’s ultimate dream on the behalf of his team. One of the youngest members of the team, who had left his impression in the tournament, carried Sachin on his soldiers around the stadium as a part of the victory lap. “Sachin Tendulkar has carried the burden of the nation for 21 years. It’s the time when we carry him on our soldiers”, Virat Kohli said latter on. Mumbai on 2nd April 2011, was witness to Indian cricket’s one of the biggest wins. However, ironically, this win had left number of critical questions to be answered in future. More than 5 years down the line, on December 12, 2016 Mumbai has given us hope. The boy who had carried the great Sachin on his soldiers, Virat Kohli has in him potential to shoulder the responsibility of the Indian cricket for the coming years and take it to dizzying heights. More, importantly, he has the nucleus of the team ready to deliver on this front.
Challenges are not something new to Mumbai. But, the strength of the city lies in coming up with the solutions. There were challenges galore before the Indian team after India defeated Sri Lanka in the world cup finals in the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. Firstly, the famed batting quartet of Indian cricket i.e. Sachin, Dravid, Sourav and Laxman were heading towards their sunset. The last three have already retired and Sachin’s marvelous marathon career is almost touching the finishing line. “Replacing four all time greats and that too at one go will be the biggest challenge before the Indian cricket in the coming years,” former cricketer and commentator Maninder Singh had then said. Secondly, the coach Garry Kirsten, who had brought about the calmness in the dressing room after tumultuous regime of Greg Chappell, was heading back home. “Garry Kirsten would have been the best person to guide this team in this transition period, but unfortunately he is leaving. Finding the coach commanding such a respect along with the calming influence will be a herculean task”, said Shaun Pollock then. Thirdly, though MS Dhoni had established his reputation as one of the most successful leader of Indian cricket, he had dropped enough hints that it will not be possible for him to carry on in all the three formats. In an interview to a leading television journalist, just before the world cup, Dhoni had dropped clear hints that keeping wickets, batting in death overs and leading the team in all the three formats are very demanding. He had hinted that he will have to take a call on his continuance in all the three formats in the near future. Fourthly, Indian bowling was desperately looking for a direction. India’s highest wicket taking bowler in international cricket, Anil Kumble had retired. The team’s thinking pace bowler, Zaheer Khan, who had set the tone for many famed victories at home and overseas was battling fitness and injuries in the decisive phase of his career. As if these challenges on the field were not enough, after the world cup win, the Indian premier league started raising many queries. Unlike, the city of Mumbai, Indian cricket board failed to come up with proper answers to these queries well in time. This has resulted in one of the richest sporting bodies in the world eternally fighting battle within and outside for its survival.
Mumbai is the city of hope. In the hope of a secured living and to make their dreams come true, thousands come to the city from all across the country. More often than not, the city doesn’t disappoint them. Mumbai test match has given an assurance—battling all the challenges, Indian cricket under Virat Kohli has decisively moved ahead. Mumbai test match has given us the hope. The team under the present leadership has the wherewithal to win in the overseas conditions as well. What gives us that hope? Firstly, in Virat Kohli, India has found a cricketing leader, who is now fully prepared to provide leadership across all the three formats. He’s tactically sound, aggressive in approach and intent and most importantly, leads by an example. As former England player and now cricket writer, Derek Pringle in his column writes, “Before Kohli was made the captain, he was epitome of modern India- brash, proud and unwavering in the belief of his own greatness. Although, that has been tempered to an extent, the roots remain. It’s why he has clashed during this series with Ben Stokes, another big bold alpha male determined to mark his territory. Leadership though has become him and his batting average has leapt considerably, from 41 to 67, since his appointment to captaincy.” Secondly, though it’s true that most of the test victories under Virat Kohli have come in the Indian sub-continent. And the challenge will be to sustain this winning aura in the demanding overseas conditions. Since Sourav Ganguly leadership period, there is a positive new benchmark in Indian cricket. As senior journalist, Ravi Kant Singh says, “The benchmark is that you are a good team, if you are winning in Indian conditions. But you will be a great team if you win in overseas conditions”. Sourav was India’s first captain, under whom the team performed credibly abroad- to the extent that winning or at least drawing away series became an exception and not a forlorn hope. But like, Sourav Ganguly’s epochal
overseas victories in England, Australia and Pakistan were built on the solid edifice of victory against the Steve Waugh’s invincible army at home, the current series could pave way for many of team Virat Kohli’s victories away from the home.
Mumbai, as the city, tests your character. And only those who can come across baptism by fire go a long way here. Virat Kohli’s master class double century in the spinning Wankhede wicket was a lesson in batsman ship. On a day when Kohli smashed a career best 235 runs, his third double ton of the year, England premier pace bowler James Anderson said, “I am not sure if he (Kohli) has changed. I just think any technical deficiencies he has got are not in play out here. The wickets just take that out of the equation. There is not that pace in the wicket to get the nicks, like we did against him in England- with a bit more movement.” Importantly, James Anderson has proven Kohli’s nemesis when Indian team travelled England in the last series. As to whether, Kohli is able to reply back next time when India travels to England is hidden in the womb of future. But Anderson definitely, failed the test of his character in Mumbai. As former South African skipper Graeme Smith said, “Is Jimmy Anderson saying that he can bowl only in English conditions?”. This debate was decisively carried further when West Indies all rounder Russel Arnold tweeted, “Just looking at Kohli’s and Anderson’s home/away record along with many other greats. Kohli is lot better than most including Anderson”. However, what separates a great player from the good is their ability to convert such challenges into opportunities. Virat Kohli had earlier lived up to this challenge in Australia when he had to permanently handle test captaincy in the mid of the series in Australia. As a team also there are signs that the team has the wherewithal to scale new heights in England, Australia and South Africa- which traditionally have been three most challenging assignments for the Indian team over the years.
There is a leadership group evolving within the team. On the field, Virat Kohli and Ramachandran Ashwin are developing partnership akin to the Sourav-Dravid duo at one point of time. As documentary maker, Vijay Sharma says, “There was a scope of friction between Ashwin and Kohli in the team, considering the fact that both had
leadership abilities. But one of the takeaways of the undesirable Anderson episode in Mumbai is that they back each other. The way Ashwin fought for his captain makes this palpable. This became all the more clear when the captain gave 60 per cent credit of team’s victory to Ashwin. In fact, Ashwin has grown up in his confidence as a lead bowler and a good batsman under Kohli’s leadership”. Off the field, this duo is backed solidly by battled hardened warrior of his times and the current head coach Anil Kumble. As Vijay Sharma concludes, “There was no doubting in Kumble’s credentials of being a great player himself, coming into the play in his role as the head coach. But in his brief stint, he has shown that he is working on the formula which is the combination of ‘the stick to the basics and patience approach of John Wright’ and ‘battle hardened and giving congenial atmosphere for individuals to grow for the cause of the team approach’ of Garry Kirsten’. To add on to this leadership within the team, a strong supply chain is ensured with Rahul Dravid at the healm of affairs, as India A coach. The fact, that there is relatively less popular profile wise selection committee has been a blessing in disguise. The events leading to the Mumbai test havecome up with the message of robustness of the team in terms of the bench strength. As Dr Ajay Ojha, team building consultant says, “Injury wise this series was a test case for Indian team management. But they have handled it brilliantly. Key players like KL Rahul, Wridhiman Saha, Mohammad Sami and Ajinkye Rahane got injured one after other. But the way replacements like Parthiv Patel, Bhuvneswar Kumar, Karun Nair and Jaydev Yadav were drafted in shows a clear headed approach in the entire supply-demand process.
Mumbai is city of stars. And it has been the birthplace of many new stars. Haryana’s Jayant Yadav was one such emerging star of the Mumbai test. Yadav with his matured century proved that he has in him to be a future all rounder. One of the established trends in the emerging Kohli’s model of leadership is that his team combinations are not skewed in favor of batsman. On most of the occasions, he prefers to go with five bowlers in the test team. But he had been able to successfully work on this formula because Ramachandra Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have been contributing with the bat. Post Mumbai, Jayant Yadav has joined this club. In the overseas conditions, where playing three spinners will be a luxury, Hardik Pandya rightly, is being groomed by the team management for this role. In the pace bowling department, Mohammad Shami-Umesh Yadav are forming a formidable duo. Though Shami missed Mumbai test because of injury, he is Zaheer Khan in making. The pace
battery has a back up in the form of Bhuvneswar Kumar and Ishant Sharma in the terms of experience and Shardul Thakur in terms of raw energy. Though, it’s perhaps for the first time in India’s cricketing history that the premier batsman from the team is not from indomnitable Bombay batting school. The greatest India batsman of the current generation Virat Kohli has come from outside the Mumbai school. But like Mumbai, life has moved on for Indian cricket. And Mumbai has passed on the baton to a strong shoulder.
(The writer is senior Sports Journalist)