Unless there is a dramatic change in his mindset, Virat Kohli can be trusted to go with five bowlers in all the Tests he leads India. Question is whether he will be able to pick horses for courses in future.
Accommodating Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ravindra Jadeja in the team for the third Test was a decision spurred by the failure of Umesh Yadav and Amit Mishra and not because they were first-choice bowlers for Kohli. Kumar’s five-wicket haul though should cast doubt in Kohli’s mind whether at all he was going about it the wrong way.
Like every captain who likes an out and out fast bowler in his team, Kohli’s liking for Yadav was understandable in the first two Tests. In the IPL too, he had persisted with Varun Aaron even though he sprayed the ball around at times. But history shows that India have been able to produce more successful swing bowlers than fast bowlers. After Kumar’s five-for, selecting the right bowlers might just get more difficult for Kohli.
Mohammed Shami’s successful comeback with a deceptive bouncer in his armoury makes him the leading pacer of the attack. Ishant Sharma should get the nod as the second pacer simply because of the natural bounce he can produce on any wicket. But it might be trickier business for Kohli to choose between Yadav and Kumar if he persists with two spinners.
Both have almost similar averages but Kumar clearly has more control over the ball. And he definitely swings it more in seaming conditions, something Yadav can’t be relied to do every time. On Friday, Kumar was not only moving the ball but was also using the crease intelligently to vary his line. A case is point are the dismissals of Jermaine Blackwood and Marlon Samuels. Blackwood edged to a delivery that landed on his off and moved further away while Samuels was cramped by an inswinger that Kumar delivered from wide of the crease.
“Biggest point was that the ball was swinging. When that happens I have more chances to take wickets. When you get one wicket you get the confidence to bowl better. In my mind I knew that these are the 7-8 overs where I can take wickets. I didn’t think I would take five wickets but that comes with the momentum,” said Kumar after close of day’s play.
A long time away from Tests did contribute to some nervousness but Kumar said that was gone once he started bowling. “I practice the way I am bowling in the match but it is not easy to sit outside for so long and then come back. It is not frustrating always, but it isn’t easy either. So it is important that you keep preparing yourself for the chance that might come. It is not necessary that you might get wickets, but it shouldn’t be that you are not prepared at all,” said Kumar.
“When we had the camp in Bangalore I started preparing for this series in particular so I didn’t do anything different. I just knew that it will swing a bit here and there will be something in it for the fast bowlers. I prepared in that way only,” he said.
Kumar’s ability to swing the ball both ways and lure batsmen into non-existent shots makes him an ideal third seamer but his lack of speed might be one thing going against him. That perhaps explains why he was always the perennial bridesmaid in the last one year and more — always part of the squad but never really making the cut. This pitch, with a lot more carry, suddenly showcased Kumar’s talent when India was in dire need for their other bowlers to step up to the plate. His speed may not increase much but Kumar’s knack of hitting the right spot and get movement makes him a more consistent wicket-taking option. India found that out on Friday after a two-match trial with Yadav. From now on though, his could be a case of more planned execution.