IND v ENG: Big question mark on Kohli for last 3 Tests
Rahul Dravid looks ill at ease answering queries on the master batsman and on Ishan Kishan's return
A Test win often eases a lot of pressure on the coach and captain, but Rahul Dravid seemed ill at ease while fielding a few pointed questions yesterday, 5 February, in Visakhapatnam.
The uncomfortable queries were not about the team's on-field performances, but about the availability of Virat Kohli for the remaining three Tests against England—and the conundrum of Ishan Kishan.
Now that there is a eight-day gap before the third Test in Rajkot, beginning 14 February, the selectors are not really in a hurry to announce any modification in the squad. However, it has been learnt that there is a distinct possibility that the master batter, who had pulled out of the first two Tests owing to "personal reasons", may not be available for the entire Test series.
Asked about it, Dravid presented his own defensive bat: ‘’I think it’s best to ask the selectors. I am sure they are the best people to answer ahead of the team selection for the next three Tests. We will get to that. I am sure there will be selection over the next few days. We will connect with him and find out.’’
It was barely 48 hours before the start of the first Test in Hyderabad that Kohli had pulled out of the first two Tests, though informed sources confirm that he wanted to rule himself out of the entire series as he was apparently not feeling in a position to focus on the job at hand.
'Virat has spoken to captain Rohit Sharma, the team management and the selectors and has emphasised that while representing the country has always been his top priority, certain personal situations demand his presence and undivided attention,' the BCCI had then said in its statement.
While questioning anyone's personal reasons may be an insensitive play, rumours started doing the rounds about his mother’s health when it was revealed that the star had flown overseas. Things escalated to such a level that it was left to Kohli’s brother to release an Instagram story to rubbish such talk and announce that she was in good health.
Another development confused the fans further, when AB de Villiers—one of Kohli’s closest friends in the fraternity, thanks to their long association in the IPL—said in his YouTube channel that the former Indian captain was on his way to becoming a father twice over.
However well-meaning the disclosure may have been, de Villiers sparked muted concerns over Kohli’s commitment as a contracted player with the BCCI.
Incidentally, Kohli had left the Australia tour of 2020–21 after the first Test too, impending the birth of his first child; but the cricketer had announced his plans well beforehand on that occasion.
While there is a growing feeling now that the question of his availability could have been handled with a bit more transparency, it now looks more like a Hobson’s choice for the board. An early announcement of Kohli’s non-availability for the full series will surely hand a psychological boost to the visitors. A late shuffle impacts morale within the home camp and fanbase.
Meanwhile, Dravid took a U-turn on the subject of keeper-batter Kishan as well, clarifying his statement that the Mumbai Indians cricketer will have to play "domestic cricket" to make himself eligible for a recall to the national team: ‘’Whenever he is ready... I didn't say he has to play domestic cricket, I said whenever he is ready... he needs to play some cricket and come back. The choice is his. We are not forcing him to do anything. We are in touch with him. We know what it is."
“He hasn’t yet started playing, right?," Dravid continued. "At the moment, it’s not something that we would consider. He is maybe not ready. He decides when he wants to be ready.”
However, with the plethora of wicketkeeping options before the selectors, it may not be easy for Kishan to find his way back solely on the basis of a strong IPL 2024 performance.
Kishan, incidentally, flouted the team management’s so-called earlier directive—he has now skipped five matches in a row for his state, Jharkhand, in the ongoing Ranji Trophy. There is no confirmation that he will be available for the next game, starting on 9 February, either.
Here's hoping for clearer forecasts for both these players and the team as a whole in the week ahead!