To some Ajinkya Rahane was a shock exclusion from the first Test – he has the best overseas record among the current India batsmen – but to Virat Kohli it was no surprise at all. On the eve of the second Test, Kohli actually mocked those asking for Rahane’s inclusion in the XI. Kohli felt “no one” wanted Rahane to play the last Test.
“It’s funny how things change in a matter of weeks, or just about five days,” Kohli said on the eve of the second Test. “Before the first Test, no one thought that he should be in the XI, and now suddenly people are looking at the other option. For us as a team, it’s all about finding the right balance. If players fit in in the kind of balance we want to go with as a side, then they will fit in. We certainly don’t go on opinions that are created outside, and ‘talk of the town’, and all those sort of things.”
Having said that, Kohli acknowledged Rahane’s importance as a batsman.
“He’s a quality player, he’s done well in South Africa. [In] all conditions, actually, away from home,” Kohli said of Rahane. “He’s probably been our most consistent and solid player away from home. I explained the reasons why Rohit [Sharma] started ahead of him. I’m not saying that Ajinkya cannot or will not start in this game. Possibilities are all open at the moment and we shall decide after practice.”
One of the left-field options is to make Parthiv Patel open the innings, thus freeing a middle-order slot for Rahane. As things stand, Hardik Pandya has made himself undroppable through his performance, and it will be unfair – now that he has been picked – to drop Rohit after one Test. If Rahane has to play, Parthiv has to be brought in. It is not a fanciful thought: in the lead-up to the Test, the support staff has been putting in a lot of work on Parthiv’s keeping and batting, and the same continued on the eve of the Test.
Kohli continued to ask for improvement from his other batsmen as he felt the bowlers had done a decent job of bringing India back into the contest in Cape Town. “We are very happy with the way the bowlers went about the business,” Kohli said. “The batting didn’t come out well so I’m not worried on the bowling front at all. We have been in a very good space, and we believe we can get them out twice again in this game.
“You definitely need that to win Test matches but you also need a solid batting performance. Especially when you are playing away from home, you need that 60-70-80 extra runs compared to back home because there your bowlers will be stronger. But the way they (bowlers) showed their skill sets and their character in the first game, it motivated us as a batting group also to support them and play together as a unit and get some good results out there.”
One of the things Kohli asked of his batsmen was more intent. He was asked to elaborate what he meant by that.
“Intent doesn’t really mean that you have to go out there and start playing shots from ball one,” Kohli said. “Intent is there in a leave. Intent is there in defending as well. Intent is about being vocal out there in calling. All those things count as intent. Just the way your body language, the way you are thinking about the game. It gets portrayed in your body language. People can tell if you are playing with intent or not.
“There will be tough moments but I think even the tough moments one needs to overcome through intent. Defending or leaving the ball, you need precise footwork to do that. And that only comes with a clear head and a positive intent in your head. That’s how I look at things. Even if I’m going to leave the ball, I need to do it with intent. My stride should be big enough to leave the ball, or defend it. So in my head I’m feeling positive about those things. Being positive doesn’t mean you are scoring every ball. But it’s understanding that you are in control of what you want to do. That’s how I break down intent.”
Kohli said there was no need for panic yet. “I don’t think we need to panic because of collapses,” he said. “People need to apply themselves much better. Whether we are playing five batsmen or six, you still need to apply yourself. It doesn’t mean that if you are playing six batters, you can afford to go out and play loose shots. You still need to have a solid technique and go out there and be ready to face bowling spells which are going to be difficult. We need to embrace that.”