Virat Kohli’s decision to field six batsmen and five bowlers could backfire on India

While Virat Kohli's aggression is certainly a refreshingly aggressive move, it is also one that can potentially backfire.

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Virat Kohli announced that he intends to stick to the six batsman-five bowler policy India adopted against Bangladesh in the one-off Test at Fatullah. While this is certainly a refreshingly aggressive move, it is also one that can potentially backfire. Shiamak Unwalla has more.

India drew their Test against Bangladesh after poor weather cost over 250 overs. It was enough for India to dominate Bangladesh with the bat and bowl them out once. Had India the chance of bowling even half of the remaining overs, it could well have been a different story. Virat Kohli‘s decision of going in with six batsmen and five bowlers could have been vindicated. READ: Virat Kohli’s selections so far have been like playing with fire

But with all due respect to Bangladesh, they are hardly a force to be reckoned with in Tests. Having six batsmen — especially if one of them is Wriddhiman Saha — in overseas conditions is a ticking time-bomb that could explode in India’s faces. Let us look India’s top batsmen in Tests since 2011:

Name M I R HS Ave SR 100s 50s
Virat Kohli 34 60 2561 169 45.73 53.13 10 10
Cheteshwar Pujara 25 44 1968 206* 49.2 49 6 5
MS Dhoni 37 63 1951 224 34.83 57.33 2 13
Murali Vijay 23 42 1801 167 42.88 45.99 5 8
Sachin Tendulkar 24 41 1389 146 35.61 51.5 1 9
Rahul Dravid 15 29 1261 146* 48.5 43.57 5 4
Ajinkya Rahane 15 28 1175 147 47 57.71 3 7
Ravichandran Ashwin 25 37 1009 124 36.03 62.43 2 4
Shikhar Dhawan 14 24 996 187 41.5 68.73 3 2
Gautam Gambhir 19 34 969 93 28.5 44.12 0 7

Unsurprisingly, Kohli is at the top. He has scored more hundreds than anyone, and has also got the second highest number of half-centuries. However, an average of 45.73 is far from reassuring. India’s second-highest run-scorer in this time is Cheteshwar Pujara — a man who was overlooked for the Test against Bangladesh.

Another worrisome detail is that no Indian batsman has averaged more than Pujara’s 49.2 in this period. That Ravichandran Ashwin ranks higher than Shikhar Dhawan on the list is also slightly unsettling, but it is understandable given that Ashwin has played far more matches. Added to that, Dhawan’s average is higher as well.

That said, let us look at how the protagonists of India’s one-off Test against Bangladesh fared. READ: Ravichandran Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh: India should persist with spin duo

Dhawan and Murali Vijay both scored in excess of 150. However, there was a chance Dhawan might not have featured at all, had KL Rahul been fit to play. Dhawan was dropped toward the end of the Australian tour, before he came back to form in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015. Vijay has been outstanding over the last couple of years.

Rohit Sharma batted at No. 3, while Pujara was axed from the side. Rohit currently averages 39.29 in Tests, as many as 10 runs per innings less than Pujara. Again, given current form the move made sense, but Rohit is a long way away from establishing himself in the Test team.

Kohli suffered a rare failure, but he has been excellent in recent times, and as captain he has done well in his first few games. Ajinkya Rahane continued his excellent run, narrowly missing out on a fourth Test ton. He remains one of India’s best Test batsman along with Vijay and Kohli. However, at No. 5, the specialist batsmen end with him. READ: Virat Kohli must be innovative in one-off Bangladesh Test

Saha batted at No. 6 in the match, and this is where the major problem lies. Saha currently averages 17 in Tests with a highest score of 36. He would not make the most reliable batsmen at No. 7, much less at No. 6. Even Dhoni hesitated batting himself higher than No. 7, and he is a far superior batsman in every regard.

Going in with only six batsmen is a risk. But if only three of the six (in this case Vijay, Kohli, and Rahane) are regularly scoring runs, and one (Saha) averages less than 20 after five Tests, there is a serious hole in the plan.

Kohli’s argument is that Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh are both fairly accomplished batsmen — Ashwin and Harbhajan both have as many Test tons as Rohit — but expecting anything more than a useful 30 or 40 runs from them is putting undue pressure on two men who have played as bowlers their entire careers. Ashwin is certainly good enough to bat at No. 7, but unless Saha starts scoring consistently undue pressure will be added on Ashwin. READ: Bangladesh have failed to carry ODI form over to Tests

Having a six batsman-five bowler policy is a brave and aggressive move, but only if at least five of the six batsmen are dependable enough. Unless Dhawan, Rohit, and Saha can step up the move could cost India dearly. Kohli seems to have faith; but the true test will come shortly.

India tour of Bangladesh, 2015: Complete coverage

(Shiamak Unwalla, a reporter with CricketCountry, is a self-confessed Sci-Fi geek who loves cricket more than cricketers. His Twitter handle is @ShiamakUnwalla)

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