Ahead of India's first Test against West Indies, Virat Kohli brushed aside concerns about Shikhar Dhawan's poor form while calling KL Rahul the “third opener” in a sign of things to come. Kohli also said he favored going in with five bowlers and asked the batsmen to take up more responsibility.
KL Rahul's hot run in the IPL and more importantly the Zimbabwe series has been one of the silver-linings for India this year. The opener was widely rumored to be the new replacement for Shikhar Dhawan, who has not reached a fifty in his last eight Test innings. But Virat Kohli threw his weight behind Dhawan ahead of India's first Test against West Indies today.
"In international cricket, you need to understand one thing that you cannot count players out because of one series," Kohli said. "If you're talking about KL Rahul, obviously he's improved leaps and bounds as a cricketer in the last 3-4 months. He's established himself as the third opener for India, he's a regular in the Test side, he played in Sri Lanka as well, scored runs there.
"If you speak about KL Rahul and someone like Shikhar, it's very difficult to take a call up front, in the first match of a series, because someone like Shikhar is a very dominant player, he can dominate sessions and bring you into the Test match, especially in conditions like West Indies.
"You can't count out a guy like Shikhar because of a couple of innings here and there," he added.
Kohli also reaffirmed earlier readings that the pitch is expected to favor spinners and resemble a sub-continental pitch than the other West Indian pitches.
I think the surface looks really dry and soft," he said. "It's not as hard as some of the other surfaces in West Indies. The wicket is no different from what we play back home, actually.
Kohli is also back where he made his Test debut in 2011 – the skipper had struggled during the series failing with the bat and against the short ball as he failed to notch up even a fifty. But how things have changed in the last five years! So much so that he was able to look back at it as a memorable experience.
"It's a memorable place for me," he said. "I made my Test debut here. It's nice to come back after so many years, and having played so many Test matches all over the world in between. Obviously, I had improved as a Test cricketer.”
Expected to bring in aggressive intent to an Indian Test team that has lacked it for some time, Kohli said he preferred five bowlers in Tests saying there was no point putting how many ever runs on board if your bowlers cannot wrap up the 20 wickets.
As batsmen, we want to take responsibility, so as a captain I'm always in favour of five bowlers, because if you don't take 20 wickets, it doesn't matter if you score 700 runs, there's no point. We have been playing with that mindset for the last one-and-a-half-to-two years, and we will start this series with the same mindset, and see that our bowling is as strong as it needs to be to take 20 wickets.
The bowling appears strong after a while with Mohammed Shami's return to full fitness from the knee injury he sustained during the ODI World Cup last year. The bowler appears to have earned the captain's nod as the bowling partner for Ishant Sharma in the series.
“Obviously, he's a gun bowler, we all know that, the areas he hits is what you need in Test cricket, very attacking lines and lengths, and he has the ability to get batsmen out at any stage of the game, which as a captain is very pleasing and important, so Shami being back in the side obviously gives us a lot of options. The guy can bowl well with the new ball, with the old ball, reverse-swinging it, he can come around the wicket, use bouncers and use his pace as well. So I think as a fast bowler he's a complete package, and I only wish him the best of luck for the season, and hope he delivers for us like he's done in the past as well," said Kohli.