Former India captain Rahul Dravid has said that it will be "unfair" to judge Virat Kohli's captaincy credentials on the basis of one Test. In the absence of the injured MS Dhoni, Kohli will be leading India in the first Test of the four-match series against Australia at Brisbane from December 4. Dhoni is expected to be fit in time for the second Test in Adelaide from December 12.
"Dhoni's absence gives Virat the opportunity to show that he leads maybe differently," Dravid told ESPNcricinfo. "I still think it's going to be Dhoni's side, he has been announced captain. It's just a nice opportunity for Virat and a great feeling, every time you get the opportunity to lead your country in a Test match, it's a great thrill and Virat will really enjoy that."
Having observed Kohli closely over his career Dravid believes he is the "obvious candidate" to take over the job from Dhoni in the long run but it will "depend on his batting." According to Dravid, "I think he's (Kohli) got a good cricket brain. From what we've seen a little bit in the IPL and one-day cricket, he's willing to make things happen. He's spent quite a bit of time learning from Dhoni. He's been in the side for a while now. If he can bat well in Test matches and have that certainty about himself as a player, then I have no doubt that he's the obvious candidate to take over from Dhoni once he's finished."
While Kohli has bounced back in recent weeks with some impressive knocks in ODIs against West Indies and Sri Lanka, he had a wretched run on the tour of England. In 10 innings over five Test matches, Kohli made just 134 runs. Dravid believes the challenge of having to lead the team will do Kohli "a world of good."
"Maybe it will take his mind away from thinking about his own batting, he will have other stuff to think about and it's only for one match," he said. "Rather than be consumed by his own thoughts and scoring runs he will have to think about other things which sometimes can be a pretty good thing. Hopefully, he's learnt his lessons. Having said that Virat has scored a hundred in Australia as well so he's the most experienced of that young middle order."
Among the 18-man squad named for the series are two new faces in opening batsman KL Rahul and legspinner Karn Sharma. Dravid had in fact selected both while naming his preferred squad for the series on ESPNcricinfo on November 3. While he concedes that both are unlikely to make the cut for the playing XI immediately, Dravid doesn't expect them to merely make up the numbers.
"If you pick people to go on tour, you have to have the belief that they are good enough to replace people in the side," he said. "On my first tour, I didn't play the first Test match through injuries and lack of form of other people, Sourav and myself got an opportunity in the second Test and were able to cash in. Anyone picked on tour, you should believe are good enough not only to play but also have an impact."
While Dravid had left Suresh Raina out of his 16-man squad, the selectors have included him in the 18-member unit they have named for the tour. Although one school of thought suggests Raina has been included to give him an early feel of the conditions in Australia ahead of the World Cup, Dravid disagrees.
"Suresh has been to Australia many times before with the one-day team. I don't think there was a need to get him used to the conditions thinking ahead to a World Cup," he said. "I believe he has been picked to replace someone in the middle order if they go out of form or gets injured. The team likes Raina, he gives so much on the field, he's a brilliant slip fielder, it's an area India struggled in England, he can give you a few overs of off-spin. It's a chance for him to resurrect his career, I am sure that he can play well in Test cricket where his record isn't as good."
In fact the size of the touring party doesn't sit too well with Dravid as well who is of the view that "16 players would have sufficed" for the series. "With the domestic season on in India, some of the players picked would be better off having played four-day cricket," he said. "If there were injuries you almost want people coming in having played cricket rather than cold, not having played matches for whatever length it might be. You might find cases that some of the guys have been on tour for a month and half and not having played a single game. Maybe the selectors felt they needed that back up, they were covering for a few injuries."
Gaurav Kalra is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo. @gauravkalra75