The dynamics have changed. Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s injury and withdrawal from the Asia Cup has pitchforked Virat Kohli into the hot seat. The knives were out after setbacks in South Africa and New Zealand. One more might have put the skipper and coach under increased pressure, not a pleasant development looking ahead to the Twenty20 World Cup that Bangladesh is hosting immediately after the Asia Cup. It is perhaps a blessing in disguise for Dhoni and a challenge for the feisty Kohli who gets a chance to make a bigger impression against the best of Asia.
Having led in eight ODI matches in Zimbabwe and West Indies in 2013, Kohli faces the unenviable task of redeeming a team which failed to post a single win in South Africa and New Zealand. Captaincy is always a hard task and added responsibility. But is a fierce competitor and hungry to do well. SL Venkatapathy Raju, former national selector and left-arm spinner, feels Dhoni will be missed. “At the same time, it’s an opportunity for Kohli,’’ he said.
Dhoni has been a wonderful performer in the shorter formats. Former India opener WV Raman said Dhoni performs many roles. “He is a finisher, keeper and an impressive captain. He was very important in this format of the game. But it’s an opportunity for Kohli to gain experience as captain. Who knows? When Dhoni took over captaincy, he led us to victory in World T20 Championship in 2007. There is every possibility that Kohli can seize the opportunity. People may try to compare him with Dhoni and others who have led before him. We have to see he is leading a young side. We can’t judge him immediately.”
Former India keeper and chairman of selectors Kiran More is firm that batting holds the key for India. “Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Kohli, Rahane have made runs in difficult conditions. They will bat in known conditions. That is a big advantage. Pujara has got the opportunity and has to make the best out of it. We need a batsman who can anchor the innings and Pujara has the technique.”
Raman is happy with the window opening for Tamil Nadu’e Dinesh Karthik. “He is a capable batsman and a much improved keeper. It’s not about comparing Dhoni with Dinesh. But he is someone who is talented and has international experience.”
It is bowling that has been a problem for India. According to More, there will be a pressure on the fast men. “The conditions will be difficult for fast bowlers. We have inexperienced new ball bowlers. They have to rise to the challenge,” More pointed out.
Former international fast bowler Debashis Mohanty is eager to take a look at the pace attack which will miss the discarded Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma. “They are very committed fast bowlers. I agree bowling in the sub-continent conditions is very challenging. You will not get swing or bounce. Under the circumstances, length is important. You have to be clever with the ball,” he said.
Mohanty said bowlers like Shami Ahmed and Bhuvneshwar Kumar are capable performers.
“Shami is nippy and has shown the intensity while Bhuvneshwar has shown good control over the ball, swinging it both ways. They have to be careful in not providing width,” he noted.
All eyes will be on off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin. Raman feels this opportunity should help him recover lost ground. “He should reaffirm the fact that he can be an useful cricketer.” Raju said it is important that Ashwin returns to his wicket-taking habit. “He is trying too much. He has to get back to basics,” he explained. Another former spinner and current coach of Hyderabad Sunil Joshi said Pragyan Ojha got a bad deal. “He would have been a better option than a fast bowler. On these wickets, he can be handful,’’ he said.
On whether India will be under pressure or favourites, Raman said this team should be given some time. “Cricket will have its ups and down. We need to allow them to settle down.”