Ind vs Eng: Boost for Ben Stokes & Co. as Kohli pulls out of first two Tests

‘Personal reasons’ cited as the reason as India look to rejig batting order

File photo of Virat Kohli
File photo of Virat Kohli

Gautam Bhattacharyya

Only a day earlier, the legendary Sunil Gavaskar said India has got ‘Viratball’ to counter ‘Bazball’ in the upcoming five-Test series, beginning in Hyderabad on Thursday. However, the hype has to wait for now, with the sudden decision of Virat Kohli to pull out of the first two Tests owing to 'personal reasons' — a development that will surely hand a psychological boost to Ben Stokes & Co.

The decision at the eleventh hour, after both Kohli and captain Rohit Sharma had touched down in the Charminar city along with the rest of the team, will force the team management back to the drawing board to rejig the batting order. They have the option of moving Shreyas Iyer and K.L. Rahul up a spot each, and bringing in K.S. Bharat or Dhruv Jurel as a frontline wicketkeeping option.

It will be a tall order for Iyer, though, to fill the huge shoes of Kohli at number four, while it would be interesting to see the selectors’ choice of replacement, who will be named soon. If they can fall back on Kohli and Rohit for the T20Is, there’s enough logic to bring back Cheteshwar Pujara, who kickstarted this Ranji Trophy season with a double hundred against Jharkhand.

Kohli, who stood out for his application and technique in the two low-scoring Test matches in South Africa in December-January, has always been a great admirer of Test cricket, and the general feeling is he would not have pulled out unless the ‘personal reasons’ were pressing enough.

While talk of impending fatherhood raises a possibility, the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) said in a press release: ‘’The BCCI requests the media and fans to respect Virat Kohli’s privacy during this time and refrain from speculating on the nature of his personal reasons. The focus should remain on supporting the Indian cricket team as they embark on the upcoming challenges in the Test series.’’

The wording is not apt though, as it’s not quite the responsibility of the media to ‘support’ the Indian team — at least on paper.  ‘’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 media release added.

Kohli has scored 1991 Test runs against England at an average of 42.36 and fans will now have to wait for a renewal of his battle with the ageless James Anderson, now on his sixth visit to India. He also recently missed the first T20I against Afghanistan but featured in the remaining two games.

Meanwhile, the England squad flew into Hyderabad on Sunday from UAE capital Abu Dhabi, where they prepared in isolation in a 10-day camp. The task is cut out for Stokes and his men as they were done in by the spin twins Ravi Ashwin and Axar Patel during their last visit to India in 2021. However, they can take heart from the fact that it was Alastair Cook’s England which last handed India a defeat at home in the 2012 series, an era when Sachin Tendulkar was still active in international cricket.

England, incidentally, were also dealt a last-minute blow when star batter Harry Brook opted out of the series and flew back home, once again owing to 'personal reasons'. Brook will be replaced by middle-order batter and off-spinner Dan Lawrence, who was one of the reserve batters for England during the Ashes and was also part of the side during their 2021 Test series in India.

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