Captain Virat, Pant, Cheerleader Coach: Focus Areas After NZ Loss
A look at some areas of concern for the Indian team after the Test series whitewash.
“You die, you die. You don't see which is the better way to die,” was one of former captain MS Dhoni’s most quotable quotes when he was asked to choose between the whitewash in England (2011) and the whitewash in Australia (2011-12).
Nearly a decade later, his successor Virat Kohli all but repeated those very words after the defeat in the first Test in Wellington.
“Whether you lose this evening or on the fifth morning, defeat is a defeat. But if you haven’t played well, you will lose inside four days, or you will lose on the fourth morning. We know that we haven’t played well. If people want to make a mountain out of it, that’s their choice. We don’t look at it that way,” Kohli had said over a week ago.
Kohli was defiant and unapologetic after the first Test. It seemed that to him, the shocking result was just an aberration and his team would bounce back in the next Test as if it was their birth-right.
The defeat at Christchurch that followed, will now will hurt them even more. The match couldn’t even last a full three days. In fact, in the two-match series, only just a shade over 450 overs (actual duration of a five-day Test) was played and largely it was due to the ineptness of the Indian team.
Rishabh Pant had nothing to lose on the third morning in Christchurch when he came out to bat. He had batted just about an over the previous night after Umesh Yadav got out and the team was on 89/6. Yet he was tentative.
He had the license to go for the big runs and who knows, a quick-fire cameo could have changed the momentum of the game and helped India’s total.
Instead, Cheteshwar Pujara who had a marathon run in Australia playing his natural game, was asked to show intent (read: play aggressively). Same was conveyed to the likes of Ajinkya Rahane and Hanuma Vihari and as was seen, that plan only played into the hands of the Kiwi bowlers.
No One to Show The Mirror
If your coach is your biggest cheerleader at all times, then the captain will find it difficult to see the other side.
Ravi Shastri came for the press conference before the second Test (he had no intention to and came just because a senior journalist had requested him personally) and spoke like the coach of a team, which at that point was leading the series 1-0 and not trailing!
When big remarks and flamboyant quotes are all a coach is seen capable of, then questions must be asked on whether his title should in fact be updated.
No Positives From the Tour
Rarely will you see an Indian cricket debacle where there is no silver lining or some positive which the captain can try to highlight – like an outstanding batting or bowling effort.
Sadly, the openers struggled, Pujara is yet to score a Test hundred since 14 innings, Kohli had a horrendous run, Rahane is out of sorts, Vihari failed to capitalise on starts, Pant flattered to deceive, the musical chairs between Ashwin and Jadeja continued, a late comeback couldn’t hide the fact that Bumrah needed to play a couple of first-class matches before he was included in the Test team, Mohammed Shami was off-colour most of the time and Umesh Yadav’s ordinary run in overseas matches remains the same.
If there was just one positive, then it was Ishant Sharma’s miraculous comeback in Wellington, but that too didn’t last for a week as the pacer headed back to India even before his team after getting injured yet again.
SENA Countries Still a Challenge
Out of 15 Test matches in SENA (South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia) countries, Kohli’s team has managed to win just four.
Along the way, they have lost three series out of four. And, the historic series win in Australia is not even rated very highly by their board president and former captain Sourav Ganguly, who has gone on record to say that this time round, in 2020, the win will actually count as Australia will be at full-strength.
Virat Kohli has been the Test skipper for over five years now and this was the time to walk the talk. Wins in India (or Asia or West Indies) are never going to define his legacy since we already have many captains from the past who have managed those feats. Kohli has been blessed with the most versatile attack in the history of Indian cricket, and it is the envy of other teams, yet the fact of the matter is that results are not coming in that proportion.
From 5-0 to 0-5
India started the tour with a historic whitewash in the 5 match T20 series. One-dayers seemed a cake walk but India got an early warning when a depleted home team whitewashed them.
And, when it mattered most (Test series), the Kiwis were thoroughly prepared. It wasn’t merely a gamble to prepare such juicy pitches when opposition too had a fearsome attack. The Kiwis knew if they could keep Kohli quiet (which they staggeringly well), half the battle would be won. Without Superman Kohli, India’s batting just failed to inspire confidence. The fact that none of the Indian batsmen featured in the top 3 run-getters of the series asks some tough questions.
When Kohli came to address the final press conference of the tour, he expected the travelling media will ask some tough questions. He was honest, pragmatic, not looking for excuses, defending the Pujaras and Rahanes and just admitting that they were outplayed. There was no need for any follow-up questions, which may have angered him. Though, it did anger him in the middle when a local reporter asked about his behaviour during the match. The captain was back in the mood to fight and he did.
At 32, and after over a decade in Indian cricket, it’s high time Virat learned to channelise this anger of his and maybe utilise it in Australia for an encore later this year.
(The author is a sports journalist with over 20 years of experience in covering cricket. He is the author of 'Cricketer Of The Century', a book based on Sachin Tendulkar's life and career.)
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