Haunted by a series of dramatic collapses, Day 5 of the Sydney Test on Saturday will be another Test of India's resolve to face the vagaries of a five-day game. With India up for a record chase, what could Ravi Shastri be telling Virat Kohli? Will a robust team director's mindset match with the aspirations of a passionate captain?(Scorecard | Day 4 Report | Highlights)
Sanjay Manjrekar made an interesting comment on TV on Friday. He called Shastri the "brain and voice" of Kohli. True or false, one of the reasons assigned to Mahendra Singh Dhoni's sudden exit from Test cricket after the Boxing Day Test was Kohli's growing proximity to Shastri. In the last couple of tours, Kohli and Shastri seem to be hitting very similar wavelengths. With very little performance to show, a more conservative Dhoni was probably becoming a misfit. A captain who leads by example, is always preferred.(Also read: Ashwin rues leaking runs | Ashwin's 50 and four wickets brings small cheer)
India have quickly moved on from Dhoni's dramatic Melbourne exit. With Captain Cool keeping away from the team's social activities, it became easier for the players to adjust to the new order. The batting order was shuffled quickly and it made a good impact. Lokesh Rahul scored his maiden Test century and Rohit Sharma got runs. More importantly, Kohli celebrated his full-time captaincy with a king-size hundred. But there is a lot of work still to be done in Sydney.(Shastri Not Bothered with Scoreline)
During a party with the Indian High Commission in Sydney, Kohli said he was "proud" to be India's captain. To end a series on a losing note is not the ideal signature he would like to leave in Australia. A defeat could pale into insignificance Kohli's record run with the bat. A good captain must be able to see the bigger picture.(Shastri, Gavaskar Clash Over MCG Result)
Kohli has spoken about a winning mindset, but Kohli may not agree with Shastri's "hell with the scoreline" attitude. Down 2-0 in the Test series, a draw is better than a defeat. While a win will be fantastic, no visiting team except England (once) has beaten Australia chasing at Sydney in recent memory.(MS Dhoni's Retirement: The Untold Story)
As Kohli evolve and mature as a captain, he must have his own mind. Shastri's advise will be invaluable no doubt, but it must be Kohli who should make the final call and take responsibility for his actions. To remain positive is a great virtue but it should not transgress into absurdity. Kohli and Shastri must learn to co-exist and respect each other's views. This is the start of a new journey.
The SCG pitch is already showing the effects of wear and tear. And both technique and temperament will be tested to the hilt. Since the England tour last year, India have shown the alarming propensity to collapse in a heap. In Nottingham, India lost five wickets for 44 runs. This ailment became a 'cancer' in the current series as Team India suffered a series of collapses to lose the first two Tests in Adelaide and Brisbane. In Adelaide, it happened twice - eight wickets went down for 73 runs and six were lost for 77 - as Indian batting ran hot and cold.
Thanks to Dhoni, India saved the Melbourne Test after losing seven wickets for 56 runs at one stage. This cardinal sin of losing sessions have cost India dear and the only man who seemed to have held fort is Kohli.
"Sooner than later, we have to understand retreat is as important than attack," said Rahul Dravid is a post-match chat on STAR Sports on Friday. Dravid clearly doesn't belong to Shastri's school of thought. Just like a Manjrekar or a Sunil Gavaskar, scorelines matter for Dravid, irrespective of what stage of transition the team is in. "When you can't back your intention with performance," Dravid said, it is better to be safe than sorry.
Australia have a 348-run lead, but the hosts may just be tempted to bat a few more overs on Day 5. That will not only allow them a few more quick runs but the choice of the heavy roller, the usage of which will only produce more loose top soil as the day wears on. Nathan Lyon will be the danger man and how the Indian top order faces the in-form off-spinner on a turning wicket will be key.
Gavaskar suggests a "positive" approach but with a degree of caution. "Look as a challenge. If you get into a negative frame of mind, you will allow the Aussies to attack and that may trigger a collapse. India must keep the scoreboard ticking with singles," said Gavaskar, adding that surviving the first session will be important.
India can't afford another Adelaide in Sydney. Survival by session will be important and the India "must play hard cricket in the first two hours" said Sourav Ganguly. Kohli will perhaps agree with three former captains that a pragmatic approach is better than a suicidal one. Is that what Shastri is also telling Kohli's Team India?
Scorelines, do matter, Mr Shastri. Kohli hates to lose.