Heat is on and Rahul Dravid has started the mind games. Two days before the commencement of the fifth Test at Edgbaston, the Indian team head coach chose to give away nothing, ostensibly to keep the opponents on tenterhooks.
The buzz before Dravid’s press conference on Wednesday was Jasprit Bumrah’s elevation as stop-gap captain, in Covid-affected Rohit Sharma’s absence. The head coach was asked about the update on Rohit and whether Bumrah would be leading the side against England. “Update on Rohit is that he is monitored by our medical team and we still got 36 hours to go. He is not yet ruled out. He will have a test tonight and in the morning to see if he is available. Of course, he will have to return negative to play the Test,” Dravid said.
As regards to Bumrah leading the side, he passed the buck to the selection committee. “It’s better that the communication comes from official sources. Once we have some clarity on Rohit, they will take a decision.”
Of course, Dravid and the Chetan Sharma-led selection committee are keeping in touch over Rohit’s situation, which is fluid. The former India captain has the stature and authority to name the skipper for the Edgbaston Test. But more than trying to be politically correct or a lack of transparency, it sounded like pure mind games, against an England side that are on an upward climb, fresh from their 3-0 clean-sweep against England. It’s a marquee game and India, leading 2-1, have a chance to secure a memorable series win. From that point of view, Rohit playing or not playing can make a lot of difference. Dravid preferred to keep his cards close.
It was pretty much the same, when he was asked about India’s opening options alongside Shubman Gill. From Mayank Agarwal, who has been flown in as Rohit’s cover, to Cheteshwar Pujara and KS Bharat, the head coach mentioned every available option, lavishing praise on the players. He refused to read too much into England’s high-octane approach under Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes, saying: “England played really well (against New Zealand). In a couple of situations when they were back to the wall, they fought their way through. (But) we have been playing very good and positive cricket over the last few years. We have to focus on our cricket and we have been pretty successful.”
A question on Virat Kohli was met with a strong backing for the senior batsman. Kohli is 33 years of age and hasn’t scored an international hundred over the last two-and-a-half years. “He is probably in my opinion on the right side of 30. He is an incredibly fit guy. He is one of the most hard-working guys I have come across. His desire and his hunger, the whole attitude to looking after himself. The way he played the game at Leicestershire; batting in those conditions, going out there and scoring the kind of 50s-60s he did. And he was keen on playing our bowlers, batting against Bumrah and all of these guys. He is ticking all the right boxes,” Dravid said.
He added: “Players go through these kinds of phases. It’s not so much about focusing on those three-figures. Even a 70 on a difficult wicket, when he played in Cape Town (against South Africa last winter), I thought that was a very good innings. He didn’t convert it to three-figures but it was a very good score. Obviously, a guy like him and the standards he has set, people only see a hundred as a success, but from a coach’s perspective, we want match-winning contributions from him, whether that’s a fifty or a sixty or a seventy. From our perspective, it’s not a lot of focus on three-figures.”