Winning, and not pitch or WTC final matters for Virat Kohli
“Defence hona bahut zaroori hai (A good defence is an absolute must),” said Virat Kohli at the very end of a long press conference, the length of which the Indian captain had spent, ironically, on the attack. Why? Because all the noise around the third Test’s pitch here in Ahmedabad—noise that was amplified by the players and the public alike after that game had ended within two days—had made Kohli detest the insinuations.
The pitch-talk began with the very first question of the captain’s presser on the eve of the fourth Test against England (which the hosts go into with a 2-1 lead) when Kohli was asked if a rank-turner could backfire on his side, given that India only need a draw over the next five days to qualify for the inaugural World Test Championship (WTC) final.
“No. I don’t think so,” was the entirety of Kohli’s answer, hoping to make a quick getaway from the subject.
It wasn’t to be. With each subsequent question, there was no escaping the hottest topic in cricket today.
“There’s always too much noise and too much conversation about spinning tracks,” he said. “We too lost a Test match in New Zealand in 36 overs (sic: 46 overs, during the second Test in Christchurch last year). But then it wasn’t about the pitch; it was only about how we played badly. No one came and saw how much the pitch was doing or how much the ball was moving or how much grass there was on the pitch. The reason for our success is that we haven’t complained about any of the pitches we have played on.”
To be fair to England and captain Joe Root, neither have they. Even on the day the third Test ended after the visitor’s entire second innings folded in one session, Root only said that he felt for the fans who filled up the largest cricket stadium in the world.
“They came to watch Virat Kohli face Jimmy Anderson and Ravichandran Ashwin against our top batsmen like Ben Stokes. Instead they had to watch me get wickets, which shouldn’t be the case,” said Root.
When Root’s argument, pertaining to the entertainment factor of the game, was presented to Kohli in the form of a question, he was unsurprisingly dismissive.
“We play the game to win. We don’t play it so that people can enjoy me or Ajinkya Rahane or Joe Root from the opposition scoring big runs,” he said in Hindi. “People should enjoy us winning Test matches for the country. Be it two days or three or four or five. Any other line of thinking makes no sense to me because my focus is solely on winning.”
“WTC a distraction”
A victory, or even a draw in the forthcoming Test will assure Kohli a contest against Kane Williamson’s New Zealand in the WTC final at Lord’s, the first of its kind in the longest format. But were Root’s side to win the fourth Test in Ahmedabad, it would be a great favour for their trans-Tasman rivals Australia, who will make the final instead.
For the fans, this sub-plot is an added layer of intrigue in an already compelling series. But Kohli believes that the quasi-semifinal nature of the upcoming Motera Test is nothing but a distraction.
“If you want me to be brutally honest, then it (the concept of Test cricket as a world tournament) might work for teams who are not that motivated to play Test cricket. But I think for teams like us, who have Test cricket as top priority anyway, the World Test Championship is a distraction,” said Kohli. “If you are not motivated to play a normal game of cricket (like a bilateral series) and are extra motivated for a game of cricket that has some incentive to it, that’s unacceptable.”
In the other dressing room, what Root will find unacceptable is the fact that he and his team seem to have been written off by several former England cricketers even before a ball of the final Test has been bowled. Root did after all win the opening Test of this series in Chennai, albeit on a batting track, and arrived in India on the back of a series win in Sri Lanka. With nothing left to lose and a levelled series to gain, England’s pro-rotation think-tank will be forced to play their best eleven for the final Test. This also implies that they perhaps will not field a four-man pace attack as they did on a square-turner in the third Test.
The wicket for the fourth Test is allegedly a spinning wicket too, as revealed by vice captain Rahane on Tuesday and as hinted by Kohli on Wednesday, when he too addressed the possible playing eleven. “We have a certain idea of what we want to go in with. There won’t be too many changes to the last eleven that we played with,” said Kohli.
In all likelihood, only Jasprit Bumrah—who bowled a total of six overs in the third Test and has opted out of the decider due to personal reasons—will be replaced by either Mohammed Siraj, who played the second Test in Chennai, or Umesh Yadav, who hasn’t featured for India since pulling out of his delivery stride in Melbourne late last year. That was the Test match in which India began turning around the series in Australia, in the very next Test after having been bowled out for their lowest-ever Test score in Adelaide. In their second go in Ahmedabad, England would like to do the same.