India captain Virat Kohli has said the runs scored by R Ashwin and Wriddhiman Saha in the lower middle-order are the biggest positives to emerge from India’s 2-0 Test series win in the West Indies. Ashwin, promoted to No. 6 in the first three Tests in order for India to play five specialist bowlers, scored centuries in Antigua and St Lucia. Saha made useful 40s in the first two Tests and a maiden Test hundred after coming in to bat at 126 for 5 in the third Test in St Lucia.
“It has been pretty good for us, a lot of positives, a lot of things we wanted to improve on we have,” Kohli said after a still-damp outfield forced the final day’s play in the fourth Test at Queen’s Park Oval to be called off. “For me the biggest positive was Saha getting runs in the lower order plus Ashwin coming good at No. 6.
“Those were areas that were very important for us to solidify and we have done that in this series. I’m pretty happy. I hope we can keep on making that aspect of our team stronger because when you are in a tough situation in Test matches those are the positions that matter a lot. We’ve seen teams who have done well and won consistently, their lower order has contributed, especially the bowlers.
“These are important runs that take the momentum away from the opposite team. That’s something we wanted to work hard on. We have done that and got the results in this series.”
Despite the successes of the lower-order batsmen in the first three Tests, India went into the final Test with six batsmen, a wicketkeeper, and only four bowlers. Asked why they had done so, Kohli said they were looking to try this combination with an eye on the packed home season ahead.
“We thought that we lost a Test in Galle [in 2015], we were a batsman short there,” Kohli said. “In the series against South Africa at home as well we were in trouble quite a few times because we were a batsman short. We wanted to try out this combination.
“If we play four specialist bowlers back home, we feel we don’t have the need for the fifth bowler… if you play three spinners on spin-friendly wickets that should get the job done. Even if you play two spinners and two quicks, Rohit [Sharma] and [M] Vijay can come in and bowl ten overs for me.
“This was something we wanted to try, in case we want to play with this combination going ahead the team should be comfortable with it. And they should know how to play in this situation as well. If you play with only one combination teams are going to start planning better against you. You need to be flexible. Unfortunately we couldn’t get game-time.”
Kohli was also pleased with India’s pool of fast bowlers, which he believed extended even beyond the five – Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav and Shardul Thakur – chosen in the squad for the Test series.
“We have a good bunch of fast bowlers now,” he said. “Apart from these five guys we have Varun Aaron who has played Test cricket, who has lot of pace. We have Dhawal Kulkarni. We have identified a few bowlers back home as well who we want to keep up-to-date with the fitness levels required to play at this level in Test-match cricket. That for me is one aspect that has been really pleasing to see.
“How Shami has come back [from injury] as well, how Bhuvi has come back to full fitness, he’s bowling good speeds with swing as well. Ishant has always been consistently hitting good areas for us. You will see, with him, not having too many wickets in three to four innings, but suddenly he’ll pick you a seven-for or six-for. That’s why we back a guy like Ishant, because, against top-quality sides, he can still keep hitting those areas and he puts the batsman under pressure.
“Umesh has bowled wonderfully as well. The good thing is that everyone’s flexible to be played or not played according to the conditions, and that, for a captain, is obviously a very good thing, because it gives you flexibility in the bowling combination that you want to pick. That was one aspect after someone like Zak [Zaheer Khan] retired, that was a big gap to fill, but these guys have started to take responsibility nicely, they’ve understood the areas that need improvement, and they’ve worked on consistency a lot. That’s something that I saw in this series as well.”