Virat has been phenomenal in the way he has led the team: Coach Dravid

The Indian team head coach Rahul Dravid spoke in glowing terms about Virat Kohli’s leadership, crediting him for shutting out the outside noise in the lead-up to the first Test and predicting a big score for the India captain pretty soon. Dravid spoke to reporters on the eve of the second Test at Johannesburg that starts on Monday.

“There’s been a lot of noise on other issues outside the group, leading into the first Test match. But honestly, in terms of keeping the morale high, it’s not been very difficult. To be honest, it’s been led by the skipper himself. Virat has been absolutely phenomenal over the last sort of 20 days. The way he has trained, the way he has practised, the way he has connected with the group on and off the field,”
Dravid said at the pre-match press conference.

Turn of events related to the captaincy controversy before India’s African safari created scope for reading between the lines. Even on Sunday, Dravid was asked why Kohli wasn’t coming for pre-match pressers. The former India captain took the question sportingly, urging the press to celebrate Kohli’s 100th Test with “dhoom dham (gusto)” when he turns up before the final Test in Cape Town.

“He (Kohli) is going to play his 100th Test in Cape Town. And the guys (BCCI’s in-house media team) told me they have held him back for that. He will come before his 100th Test and hopefully badi dhoom dham se aap log celebrate karange (you will celebrate with gusto). Badi dhoom dham se aap unko sawal puch sakte hai 100th Test match ke bare mein (with gusto you can ask him questions about his 100th Test),” Dravid broke into a smile as he said this, insisting that there was nothing to read into Kohli’s absence.

Indian cricket got embroiled in controversy ahead of the tour to South Africa, with the selection committee sacking Kohli as ODI captain and different narratives coming from BCCI president Sourav Ganguly and Kohli about how the whole thing panned out. On December 31, chief selector Chetan Sharma addressed the media and corroborated Ganguly’s version that Kohli was told not to relinquish T20I captaincy.

In the wake of all that, focus obviously shifted towards how the newly-appointed head coach would handle the dressing-room, keeping the outside noise at bay. Dravid rather credited the skipper.

“You know as a coach, sometimes leading into the series, there’s not really too much you can do once the game starts, there’s not too much you can do to control the results. But what you are really looking to do as a coach or support staff is to prepare the team well and get the team into a really good space. And Virat has been phenomenal the way he led the team. He’s truly being a fantastic leader and a really good captain. That really helped. We were in a really good space, leading into the first Test match.”

As a batsman, Kohli has been going through an elongated fallow period. Not that he is looking out of form. He is getting starts, getting into the 30s and 40s, but Kohli hasn’t been able to convert those starts lately. For two years on the spin, India’s best batsman has failed to score a Test hundred. More importantly, at Centurion, for the tenth successive overseas Test innings, Kohli got out, chasing deliveries outside off stump.

“It could be a variety of factors and it happens to people at various stages of their career, when you play for a long time. In various phases of your career, you feel you are batting well, but the big scores don’t necessarily come. It happens to everyone. It just so could be happening for us that three of them – Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane – are going through that similar kind of phase at the same time. But the heartening point is that they seem to be batting really well,” said Dravid.

He added: “They are getting the starts and they know how to convert. So it’s just a matter of time. They are preparing well, they are practising well. I think they are in a really good space as well. I am really hoping that we could see some really good performances over the next couple of weeks. These are challenging conditions. It’s not always going to be easy to convert some of these starts. I do feel that there are some good runs around the corner.”

Over-rate penalty

The International Cricket Council has docked India one World Test Championship point for maintaining a slow over-rate in the first Test at Centurion, with the team falling one over short of its required target. The points-deduction method has been debated, especially after England lost eight WTC points for slow over-rate in the first Ashes Test in Brisbane last month.

While Dravid said that “rules are the same for everyone” and India needed to “get better” in this area, he spoke about some due considerations also. “I think the ICC is trying something. It does feel harsh when you are a coach. (But) I don’t have a particular issue with this. They (ICC) have clearly communicated to us that this is the methodology. As long as there’s a bit of leeway, a bit of understanding when the game is on; we had a few injury issues last time, ball change… Sometimes it’s difficult to pinpoint how many minutes you have lost. There are a few small areas where maybe we can get a little bit better at,” Dravid opined.

As he mentioned, India played four fast bowlers at Centurion and the weather conditions were very hot.

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