Anil Kumble’s appointment as coach dominated the build-up to India’s Test tour of the West Indies. But with the team having landed for the series, the focus will now shift to whether Virat Kohli sets a fresh marker as a batsman.
As skipper, the Caribbean will be the perfect place to further his agenda of playing aggressive cricket. India will get the first chance to test themselves in a two-day game against the West Indies Cricket Board XI starting in Basseterre, St. Kitts on Saturday.
Another three-day game, also in St. Kitts against WICB XI from July 14, will be followed by four Tests at Antigua (July 21-25), Kingston (July 30-Aug 3), St. Lucia (August 9-13) and Port-of-Spain (August 18-22).
Setting record straight
Kohli is back where he made his Test debut on India’s last series in 2011. (He did tour the West Indies for a limited-overs series in 2013). Having rapidly established himself as a limited-overs player, he was picked after Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir were rested after the World Cup win.
But the youngster was jolted by the hostile reception by Fidel Edwards and Ravi Rampaul in the first Test at Kingston, Jamaica. Both targeted the rib cage and he was out for 4 and 15, although Rahul Dravid’s century guided India to a win. Kohli didn’t recover, scoring just 76 runs in five innings.
Having averaged 15 on debut, he was dropped for the England tour that summer. Recalled for the home series against West Indies at the year end, he announced his arrival in Australia in 2011-12, with a brilliant 116 in the final Test at Adelaide.
The debut series apart, he has only failed in the 2014 five-Test series in England, where Kohli’s uncertainty outside off-stump was exploited by pacers and spinners. He didn’t get a half-century in 10 innings, totalling just 134 runs in 10 innings during the 1-3 series defeat.
Before and after
Until then, and after the England low, it has essentially been about Kohli’s class. He proved that with four centuries on the 2014-15 four-Test series in Australia.
In 29 Tests going into the Australia series, Kohli had scored 1,855 runs at an average of 39.46, including six centuries.
In the next 12 Tests after England, he has scored 1,139 runs at 54.23, with five centuries.
With India due to play 13 Tests at home after the West Indies tour, it will be perfect opportunity for Kohli, in scintillating form across formats, to take his overall Test average (44.02) well past 50, the hallmark of great Test batsmen.
There is a certain joy and intent in Kohli’s batting that doesn’t reflect anxiety about statistics. But the start of this Test-heavy season can still be perfect to ramp up those numbers.
The comparison with Australia’s Steve Smith and England’s Joe Root, Kohli’s true contemporaries, throws up interesting figures as this graphic shows.
With the kind of form he has been in, Kohli will be expected to address a few things in these statistics.
The series will also be an opportunity for fans to see if the mother of all batting performances in the West Indies can be matched — Sunil Gavaskar’s sensational aggregate of 774 (with 4 triple-figure scores) against a fearsome pace attack on lively pitches on the 1971 tour.