How Virat Kohli changed the scenario of Indian pitches

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Under Virat Kohli‘s captaincy, Indian cricket has witnessed the winds of change in many aspects.

In the winter of 2015, when India thumped South Africa in a Test series at home, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja scalped 54 wickets between them in four Tests. Four years later, the duo managed just 5 wickets, whereas pacers took 33 wickets.

The times are really changing. For long, India has been the land of spinners, with illustrious names such as Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Prasanna, Chandrasekhar and Bedi dominating the honours boards across the stadiums.

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The arrival of Jasprit Bumrah and the likes of Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav rediscovering themselves has worked wonders for India’s pace attack in recent years. Gone are the days when the Indian captain asked the curators to prepare a rank-turner for home Tests.

Cut to 2019 home season-where in a first-ever pink-ball Test on Indian soil, India dismissed Bangladesh twice and 19 wickets were taken by pacers and none for spinners. Let that sink in.

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The cumulative record for Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami reads: 95 wickets in 2019, at a miserly average of 15.

When he took over the captaincy from MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli had stated that he wanted to see Indian pacers dominate World cricket. The skipper has lived up to his words.
But then, what has changed for Kohli to make that assessment?

Virat Kohli’s pitch record

India were always considered as poor travellers. Why? Because they could hardly stand up to quality pace bowling when touring countries like England, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. There have been times of course when the Indians have returned the favour by skittling out the opposition on dust bowls back home, but that did little to solve their away woes.

The period of 1990-2010 was all about two of India’s greatest spinners in Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble. The duo managed to take 962 wickets between them which is roughly 40% of total wickets taken by India during those thirty years.

Comparing those times to now, the Indian team has certainly come a long way.
And the credit must be given where it is due. The trio of Virat Kohli, head coach Ravi Shastri and bowling coach Bharat Arun identified that India needed to back its pacers if it intended to do well overseas.

Firstly skipper Kohli infused the fitness culture in the Indian setup, which never existed to that extent. He then identified and backed the bowlers he believed in. Under him, the likes of Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma found their mojo again. Kohli elevated Jasprit Bumrah as the ace in the pack and handed him his Test cap in South Africa. Bhuvneshwar Kumar rediscovered his penchant for reverse swing, while Mohammed Shami’s seam and swing became more prudent.

There are different theories for this. Some say the change in mentality is the crux of the matter, while some credit it to the thinking of bowling coach Bharat Arun.

Indian pacers with skipper Virat Kohli

Pitching it short

There’s a counter-argument to the point, however.There were times when Indian batsmen preceded command over spinners. The likes of Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman would often reduce the touring spinners to laughing stock. However, with the change of guard-the, new influx found it a bit vexed to match the dominating effect of their predecessors.

As a result, the implausible scenario followed, where India lost a home series against England for the first time in 40 years, where the likes of Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann got the better of their Indian counterparts. Three years later, Australia’s Steve O’keefe snapped up 15 wickets as Australian ran riot to beat India in the first-ever test played in Pune.

Most cultures in the world have a saying about falling into the hole you have dug for your enemies and India’s inept batting against spin took them to that hole.
Then came a paradigm shift as Virat Kohli took over the captaincy, as Ravi Shastri replaced Anil Kumble as the head coach.

The mantra, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” followed as Kohli demanded more seamer-friendly tracks for the domestic season as well as for home series against the West Indies, South Africa and Bangladesh.

Backing Virat Kohli

Former captain and legendary batsman Sunil Gavaskar pointed out that the change in nature of wickets will have a direct relation to India’s overseas performances.

In the past, any Test series in India would mean spin-oriented wickets. By default, the spinners would play a big role in any home series win. But now the story is different. Kohli and Shastri have gone for wickets which would assist the pacers, which has done a world of good for their confidence. As a result, the Indian pacers are calling the tune and are better placed to fare better in places like Australia, England and South Africa,” Gavaskar quipped.

And this is when the captaincy of Virat Kohli came into the picture. He not only stressed on making pace friendly pitches, but also made sure that his bowlers give equal importance to their physical as well as mental health which will not only help them utilise their skills to maximum but will also help them be the greatest of all time.

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