India's Test captain Virat Kohli says he thinks like a batsman even when he is leading the side in the field and that mindset helps him place fielders accordingly.
A pertinent example of this working out a batsman was when Kraigg Brathwaite was batting on 70-plus in the first innings of the first Test which India won comprehensively.
The fact that the big hitting batsman was looking to play for time allowed the Indian skipper to optimise his fields, setting a tight leg-side cordon of five fielders within the circle, three of them in catching positions. With Umesh Yadav bowling short, the batsman was cramped for room and ended up edging a rising delivery instead of attempting to pull it.
"The one thing that I try to do is think as a batsman, which is very important. You can read a batsman’s body language and figure out where he is trying to score his runs. Unless a guy is playing shots all round the wicket, because then it is very difficult to set a field," said Kohli.
"But if someone is predominantly looking to set up, get in and score his runs one side of the wicket or not play a particular stroke then you pick up these things and set a field accordingly to make him do that. It’s all about getting into the batsman’s head and creating that pressure to make him make that mistake," he said further explaining his thinking about his field placements.
India’s victory over the West Indies by an innings and 92 runs in the first Test has finally also allowed them an iota of rest.
Since the onset of this tour, with Anil Kumble coming in as coach and the preparatory camp in Bangalore, then arriving in the Caribbean almost a fortnight before the first Test, it has been a consistent effort towards building up for the series, and the long home season thereafter.
In between, there have been sessions of fun and frolic, visits to the beach inclusive of snorkelling and horse riding, optional practice sessions, et al.
Yet, it was all still with the baggage knowing that much work and planning was to be put to execution on the field. The big win in Antigua has now proven that this is a well-oiled machinery never mind the coaching regime change, and ready for the challenges ahead. As such, Monday was duly an off day for the entire squad, letting off any pent up steam remaining from the first Test.
One of the key pointers to emerge from the win was the effort put in the field by all the players, in particular the bowlers and the captain, who were in sync with their thinking process. At various times in the lead-up to the first Test, and during the match, different bowlers talked about plans to string together maiden overs. And they were successful in their efforts.
28 out of 90.2 overs in the first innings were maiden overs. 20 out of 78 overs in the second innings were maidens as well. That’s an impressive return of 31 and 25 per cent respectively, indicating the discipline of the part of the bowlers regardless of the quality of the opposition.
"We know that any team can go easy on the opposition when you have 560-570 runs," said Kohli after India's victory. "But what's important is to still have the mind set of defending 350 even, when you have 560. Because when you have a low score on the board that helps you repeat those things again and you don't have to do anything different to suddenly defend a small total."
At this point in time, it is a matter of conjecture if India will have to defend a low score in this particular series. But with all respect to the West Indies, it is an obvious preparation for sterner tests ahead. And in this endeavour, the Indian bowling attack was fully supported by the fielding unit.
There was a very discernable difference in the field between the two sides. The West Indies were lethargic, not filling the gaps and allowing easy runs that propelled even Amit Mishra to get an easy half-century. Meanwhile, in their effort to get as many maiden overs in as possible, India were buttoned up tight on the field. There was immense pressure on the West Indies’ batsmen to find the same gaps that had existed when they were fielding.
It puts the onus on Kohli as a thinking captain, shuffling the field around again and again, to suit his bowler’s preferences as well as attack the batsmen at the same time. The Indian bowlers, on different occasions, had spoken about the tough pitch conditions and the need to keep working on the batsmen. The tight fielding made sure that easy singles weren’t on offer, and bowlers got to work on one particular batsmen for a majority of their over.
"That’s what Test cricket is all about," said Kohli.
"It’s not just about what’s happening with the bat or ball on the pitch, it’s about what’s happening in the head as well. It’s about how you create momentum for the bowler and the environment around a batsman where he makes that mistake.
"That’s where Test cricket is very different from other formats of the game, which I don’t think people realise too much. That’s the challenge for any cricketer in this format, to overcome this and do well. That’s why it’s so testing and so demanding of the players."