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Virat hints at persisting with five-bowler strategy

Indian captain wants top-five batsmen to take bulk of scoring responsibility

By Shirin Sadikot in
Since the time Virat Kohli first captained India in Test cricket, he has been consistent with his thoughts and words in many ways. One of them is his belief and inclination to play five bowlers, in order to give the team enough chance to take 20 wickets.

As he approaches his first Test as India’s captain on the home turf – the first match against South Africa, in Mohali – Virat hinted, in no uncertain manner, that he will stick to his five-bowler theory. He put the onus on his top-five batsmen to score the necessary runs on the board for his bowlers to defend.

“If you have six batsmen and a wicketkeeper, even if you score 500 runs, but you are one bowler short, more often than not you will face a session where you will leak runs and not take wickets,” Virat said on the eve of the first Test. “So, I think that the top five batsmen along with the wicketkeeper should take more responsibility of scoring runs and then your all-rounders can contribute.

“You need a combined effort from the whole team and when that happens, even if you score 350-400 runs you still have a chance to take 20 wickets. All of our top five batsmen like this challenge and we are up for it. It is the bowlers who will win you Test matches. Batsmen can get you games when you are chasing but it is the bowlers who will put you in a position where you are chasing small totals.

“We would go in with a combination depending on the conditions but it is highly unlikely that we will play four bowlers. I would rather have an extra bowler ready to give me 10-15 fresh overs than someone being tired and not being able to take wickets at important times. We need to have a balance between batsmen taking responsibility and bowlers ready to strike at important times,” Virat said.

If it is the bowlers who you win you Test matches, in India’s case the one bowler, in particular, the captain would look to is R Ashwin. He was the key behind India’s series win in Sri Lanka and by his own admission, he has never felt better about his bowling. Virat was effusive in his praise for Ashwin – his biggest asset going into the home Test series against South Africa.

“He has been India’s go-to man in Test cricket for the last few years,” Virat said of his ace off-spinner. “He has done really well in conditions that suit spinners. Even when the conditions favour you, you have to still pitch the ball in the right area, and you have seen him pick five-six wickets consistently in these conditions.

“He has taken his game to the next level. He wants to improve when we play away from home as well, which is very exciting for any captain. The way he bowled in Sri Lanka proved that he is among the top two-three spinners in the world. He is certainly believing in himself a lot more now that he is that match-winner for India. He is in a very good space and as a captain I am very, very delighted that we have someone like Ashwin in our team.”

One of Virat’s philosophies as a leader is to make every individual of his team accountable for what happens within the team. He said he wants his young men to bring out the leaders in themselves and grow as cricketers. Virat hopes this series will be another step towards that growth.

“If you want to take a team in certain direction, you have to give them the freedom of expression and room to grow as cricketers. You have to let them make mistakes and learn from them. The responsibility factor is something we have stressed on in this squad. We are giving guys more ownership of whatever is going on inside the field. I have been telling them that I might be the captain, but that doesn’t mean you all are not supposed to make suggestions.

“It is a matter of every guy standing in the field and thinking, ‘I can captain myself’ and I have equal responsibility for what is going on in the field. That is the mindset we want to go forward with, where every member of the squad, including those who are not playing, feel they can contribute to the team, and are involved,” Virat said.