Sydney has been the perfect place to experiment with an evolving Test side. If that's the mindset with which Virat Kohli has approached a dead rubber, he has made the right start as India's official Test captain. They say: "Normal is boring, being weird and crazy makes you happy in life." If there is design in asking Lokesh Rahul to open the innings and promote Rohit Sharma as No. 3, Kohli's much-hyped 'aggression' has been well directed this time. (Scorecard | Day 2 Highlights | Day 2 Report)
The "normal" batting line-up was certainly getting boring in the current Test series. Shikhar Dhawan ran hot and cold and Cheteshwar Pujara proved he was no Rahul Dravid. Retired Test skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni always said "a process was more important than a result." A process is useless when it doesn't yield results. Cricket doesn't remember processes, it records scorelines. No wonder Dhoni had the worst record as an Indian Test captain overseas. A process should ideally work both at home and away.
With Ravi Shastri, not worried about scorelines, to back him up, Kohli will not be afraid to experiment. A process can always be overhauled and if the captain and the team director is on the same page, half the battle is won. The 26-year-old Kohli is not the quintessential Indian traditionalist. From fancy haircuts, to arrogant tattoos and a celebrity girlfriend in tow, Kohli is the modern-day cricketer who cares two hoots about critics.
Necessity is the mother of invention and to have Lokesh Rahul open the innings and give Rohit Sharma a longer run with the bat certainly helped India on Day 2 of the Sydney Test on Wednesday. A dead rubber is the best place to make a fresh start. Kohli is certainly creating options in the Test side. A team performs best when there is competition for positions. It can be dangerous when players take their positions for granted. Dhawan and Pujara will now have to be on their guard.
Former Test opener Sunil Gavaskar has appreciated the team's move to give the batting a new look at Sydney. On this tour, Gavaskar has been critical of Kohli's verbal battles with the opposition but the decision to make Rahul open the batting and promoting Sharma to No. 3 have gone down well with the former captain.
"Both batsmen shaped very well after some initial tentativeness," Gavaskar said on STAR Sports after Wednesday's play at SCG. "Rahul was impressive for being right behind the ball and leaving them well as well," he added. Leaving balls was an art mastered by the greatest of batsmen in the Eighties. "Well-left" was then an accolade and the men who knew how to deal with a moving ball, could only do this with perfection. Rahul showed plenty of that on Wednesday. Murali Vijay did it too and the only time he blundered, he paid for it. Technique is futile when it is not consistently applied.
When a batsman is in in distress, he needs to spend more time at the middle. Kohli would know that. After a horror tour of England, Kohli doggedly picked his pieces back with application. Time is the best healer and more balls Sharma (batting on 40) and Rahul (31 not out) face at the middle will not only help their confidence, it will keep the Australians on the backfoot. India trail by 501 runs with nice wickets remaining.
Thursday morning will be the real test for Rahul and Sharma. The Australian bowlers will be fresh. The semi-new ball, 25 overs old, will still swing and on a Day 3 wicket. It will reverse too. Every ball must be played on merit. Discretion will be the better part of valour and Gavaskar had words of caution for both overnight batsmen.
"Rahul must not let the Aussie bowlers get under his skin. A pull shot in the last over of Day 2 was a dangerous one to play," said Gavaskar. Batting in the middle order of the third Test at Melbourne Test, Rahul perished due to indiscretion in both innings, scoring just four runs. Sydney could make or break his career because India won't play a Test match in a long time.
For a man who has two double centuries in ODIs, the probabilities are enormous. Gavaskar sees an ocean of opportunities for Rohit Sharma and why not? A natural stroke-maker with great footwork, Sharma can be a treat to watch. But the repertoire of strokes can be counter-productive too. "He is spoilt for choice (of strokes). But he must learn to keep some shots in the back pocket and display them only after he has crossed a certain number of runs," said Gavaskar. (Tough for Bowlers on Flat Wicket, Says Shami)
No. 3 is always a tricky position in any form of cricket. Usually reserved for men with solid defence and with skills to see off the new ball, Rohit Sharma can be an asset here. The pace of Test cricket has rapidly changed over the last few years. Top order batsmen accelerate very early in their innings, an effect of a proliferation of T20 cricket. David Warner is a classic example. Test cricket has seen several Day 4 finishes. Results come more rapidly and frequently in modern times.
Having opened and scored big runs in ODIs, Sharma is in a win-win situation at No. 3 in Tests. "To have him at No. 3 makes a lot of sense. He played the white ball (in ODIs) easily and if he handle the red ball, then it will be a huge plus. Then Rohit will be someone who can see off the new ball and even take it apart," said Gavaskar. (Steve Smith Emulates Bradman, Kallis With Fourth Straight Ton)
Kohli's aspirations to become a successful Test captain will depend on how the horses he backs perform. While limited overs cricket brings in instant glory, Test cricket remains the true measure of a successful captain. Results overseas will be India's biggest test and Kohli seems to thinking long-term already.