West Indies v India, 1st Test, Kingston, Jamaica June 19, 2011

Kohli, Bishoo aim to cement Test spots

This series will be the first serious challenge for two ambitious young men in a hurry to grow

Seventeen years ago, Devendra Bishoo's father, Mohanlal, died with a wish. Five years ago, Virat Kohli's father, Prem, died with a dream. They wanted their sons to play cricket for the country. Those sons, now young men, are at a cusp, peering down paths their fathers had laid out for them.

"I remembered the times I used to get home from school and would spend a lot of time bowling at my father," Bishoo says. "He was a great help to me and I am happy I have made him proud, even though he is not here to see me."

Kohli's story is poignant. He was not out at stumps for Delhi in a Ranji Trophy game when his father died during the night. He turned up to bat next morning, rescued his team from trouble with an innings of 90, shook his head at a replay that confirmed he shouldn't have been given out and left for the crematorium.

The stories of Kohli and Bishoo had differences for a while. Kohli went astray for two years, especially after the Under-19 World Cup victory, but he shook himself out of a bad phase and found his path once again. Bishoo was already there.

Both of them have a confidence that is striking. Kohli could have learned to swagger before he learned to walk. Bishoo has a calmness and strength about him. They are considered important parts of their country's cricketing future, and they are aware of it. This series is both a test and an opportunity.

Kohli doesn't appear to be a great batsman at first glance. He looks to be a good one. It's his demeanour that sets him apart from most men his age and others too. That cocky, teenage confidence has matured into the confidence of an assured, aware batsman. Kohli's game is simple and his improvement is that he has tried to make it simpler. He quickly glides towards the line of the ball and nudges it into gaps. He uses his signature swat-flick to send length deliveries in line with his stumps to the square-leg boundary. He drives on the up and can pull, but rarely hooks.

The short ball will be his test, especially on the fast and bouncy surface at Sabina Park. Kohli has had no problem against it in international cricket but, in a domestic game a couple of years ago, Zaheer Khan had unsettled him with short balls delivered from a left-armer's angle. He has worked on that aspect of the game in his development as a batsman. During Saturday's net session, Kohli faced tennis balls served at him from a short distance by Duncan Fletcher. The balls would rear up and fly of Kohli's hands or body. The coach then had a word with his ward and soon Kohli was swaying and bobbing out of the way.

Bishoo looks a good legspinner. He wants to be a great one. It will be fascinating to see how he gets there. He turns the legbreak, has a topspinner and his flipper is a work in progress. He hasn't reached a stage where he can drop the ball where he desires. He pitches it short or slips it wide every once in a while. His brain is buzzing all the time, though. During the 2011 World Cup, Bishoo adjusted to the slower surfaces and did two things: he slowed his pace further but would suddenly slip in quicker deliveries. He was learning on the go, and he was learning quickly. The best thing about Bishoo is his stock ball. He gets the legbreak to spin with some bounce.

Bishoo will be tested this series. Bowling to VVS Laxman and co is one of the harder exams to pass. Another challenge is that Indian batsmen tackle spin in vastly different, accomplished ways. He cannot have just one plan to set up a batsman. Laxman has supple wrists, Rahul Dravid uses the crease the best, often pressing right back to tailor his length, MS Dhoni rarely moves his front foot across, Kohli drives on the front foot and Suresh Raina skips out.

"I want to be a great bowler for West Indies," Bishoo had said. Kohli, too, said he has a burning desire to prove himself as a Test batsman. Fletcher called him "the future of Indian cricket". This series, which begins in Jamaica on Monday, will be the first serious challenge for two ambitious young men in a hurry to grow.

Sriram Veera is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo

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