The India vs Australia Test series is less than a week away, and professional prognosticators and cricket fans are busy analyzing the batting and bowling capabilities of both teams. India are clearly going into this series full of confidence, but also with a higher than usual burden of expectations on their shoulders.
The reasons for the higher expectations this time around are justified. India's much-maligned bowling is looking formidable, and the batting looks as strong as ever. Conversely, the Australian side has a few chinks in its armor that India will look to exploit.
Keeping aside India's solid look on paper though, recent history would give their fans some cause for anxiety. After all, much was expected of this team earlier this year, in South Africa and England as well. But their failure to win even one of the two series raised many legitimate concerns about the makeup of the team including the performance of the captain, coach, other support staff, and team selection.
Recent records suggest that Kohli's team has failed in the big moments. There have been times when the team was expected to raise its level up a notch and deliver on the road.
The South Africa and England tours are two such examples. The Champions Trophy is another. Despite having played flawlessly in the early rounds of the tournament, Kohli's team faced a humiliating defeat against a relatively docile Pakistan team in the final.
For India to achieve a different result in Australia, Kohli must improve his performance in his role as the leader of the team. His batting has been phenomenal, there is no question about that. But he must institute the following three changes to his captaincy for India's prospects of winning in Australia to turn into reality.
#3 Be less temperamental
One of the things that's become apparent from India's overseas tours is that Kohli's diplomatic skills are non-existent. His volatile reactions in press conferences end up becoming lead stories in the media.
As a result, constant analysis of his behavior and reactions dominates the news cycles, which in turn ends up distracting the team.
Kohli will do his team a great favor if he learns to handle himself better in media scrums and understands that the job of the media is to ask tough questions and induce a reaction from him. Moreover, he must temper his chest-beating, in-your-face type of gestures on the field and instead make calm and smart decisions.
Perhaps a chat or two with MS Dhoni may help him on that front.
#2 Be an aggressive fielding captain
Strangely, given Kohli's preference for playing an aggressive brand of cricket, his field placements have at times been defensive. When opposing batsmen attack India's bowlers, Kohli has surprisingly opted for a spread-out field rather than continuing to pursue an attacking approach with a view to ensnaring wickets.
India's series in England is a case in point. Kohli kept taking the pressure off the batsmen by making unnecessary bowling changes, in addition to pushing the field back. As a result, on more than one occasion England were able to claw their way back into the game after being down 5 wickets for less than 150 on the board.
Kohli must continue to put pressure on the opposing batsmen until all 10 wickets have been taken instead of taking the foot off the pedal when the lower order batsmen come to bat. This is a lesson that the fans hope Kohli will have learned after giving away positions of advantage in both South Africa and England.
#1 Extend a longer leash of confidence to teammates
A common criticism against Kohli has been his tendency for changing the team line-up almost every Test. In fact, until recently, Kohli had made changes to the playing 11 in every match he had captained.
Strangely, players that had played well in a Test were dropped in the very next Test with suspect justification. Many deserving players were ignored for inexplicable reasons, while other non-performing ones were brought out of the wilderness and thrust into the playing XI.
This kind of dodgy selection has invited a justified line of inquiry from the press, and that hasn't gone down well with Kohli. More importantly, a sense of insecurity has crept into the minds of the players, and that has had a deleterious effect on their on-field performance.
Stability in the selection process and sending a message of confidence to his players is a basic quality that a good captain must possess. Kohli must decide on his best 11 and give them time and confidence to get established in the team. Only then will we be able to gauge the true heights which this team can scale.