In modern-day cricket, seven months is a long time. India’s new Test skipper Virat Kohli ended the Test series in Australia in early January with almost 700 runs in his bag at an average of over 86.
In the period after that, however, the aura of the batsman suffered. His temperament came into question and big runs deserted him in ODI cricket, the format that brought him into limelight.
And in the only Test since then, in Bangladesh, Kohli made 14 on a flat deck, falling to a googly. But as India get ready to tour Sri Lanka for the Test series next month, Kohli is looking to shed the rustiness after a break with a four-day game for India A against Australia’s second string side starting in Chennai on Wednesday.
Importantly, he will play under Cheteshwar Pujara, who was dropped by Kohli in the Bangladesh Test and who is looking to make a comeback.
The main focus
On the eve of this second 'A' Test, Pujara said he’ll open the innings as regular opener KL Rahul has been rested to make way for Kohli in the eleven. Others rested include Umesh Yadav, who’ll be replaced by Varun Aaron, and Amit Mishra.
Despite Pujara’s struggles and desire to return to the India team, the showstopper will be Kohli. The wickets in Sri Lanka will be different from tracks of even bounce in Australia. Longtime coach Rajkumar Sharma, who oversaw Kohli’s preparations in Delhi, said, "That Bangladesh failure was a one-off. He was unlucky. But he came to my nets for six days and practiced mostly on dry wickets. He is expecting those kind of tracks in Sri Lanka. To begin with, we gave him normal tracks to make his feet move — remove rustiness — for a day or two. Once settled, he was on to the dry surfaces."
Sharma said the emphasis was on drives. In fact, Kohli was bowled to by Bangladesh leggie Jubair Hossain while driving. Chennai will provide a good test. Australia A spinner Ashton Agar is readying himself for the Kohli challenge.
"We do not have a huge strategy to bowl against him. We focus a little bit on the opposition but we focus on ourselves more. It will be a good chance because everyone wants to play against someone like Kohli," Agar said.
Kohli, who normally bats at No 4 in Tests might bat at No 3 as Pujara will open.
I will be opening: Pujara
Cheteshwar Pujara knows very well that his primary goal is to get back his place in the playing XI of the Indian Test side and for that he is now gearing up to open the innings when India A take on Australia A in the second unofficial 'Test' on Wednesday.
Pujara in fact has opened for senior India against Australia during the 2013 home series but now with KL Rahul being rested, the right-hander is desperate to show the national selectors that he is ready to bat at any position. "KL Rahul is not here and has been rested. I will be opening in place of Rahul," Pujara said.
Pujara knows that Test captain will also be keenly watching India A captain’s performance and he feels that Virat Kohli’s presence will help all the boys. "We can talk to Virat and learn from him."
(With inputs from PTI)