19th of December 2020, a date which most cricket lovers in India will like to erase from their memories for the Indian national team suffered one of the most humiliating defeats in its modern Test history. The team capitulated on the paltry score of 36 in the second innings of the match and thus surrendered the advantage to the hosts who latched onto it with utmost ruthlessness.
Up until the last session of the second day, the game was ebbing and flowing in either team’s favour. However, a spirited bowling performance resurrected India’s fortunes and the team gained a substantial lead of 53 runs going into the third day of the match. All India needed to do was bat sensibly to ensure that the Australians would be put firmly under strife.
But what happened afterwards left the entire cricket lovers shocked. With only white-ball cricket under the belt of most of the players of the XI, it seemed as if the Indian team was in a hurry to play their shots. Agreed there were several jaffas bowled by the Australians if you consider Vice-Captain Ajinkya Rahane’s dismissal and to some extent, the peach served by Cummins to Pujara. However, other than that, Kohli, Saha, and Vihari got out trying to play extravagant shots.
Playing XI conundrum—Virat Kohli’s Achilles heel
The shambolic performance by the batters once again opened the pandora’s box of questions for Captain Virat Kohli and the team management. Even before the Test cricket match began, there was a lot of chatter surrounding who would play as the opener and who would don the gloves behind the stumps.
Despite failing miserably in the warm-up games, the duo of Kohli-Shastri punted the fortunes of the team on Prithvi Shaw. Not questioning the prodigious amount of talent, Shaw possesses but the reality is that his batting has major technical defects that were exposed to its barebones by the Aussie pacers. Shaw’s Delhi Capitals coach Ricky Ponting meticulously prophecized the mode of his dismissal one ball before his defence was breached by Pat Cummins.
Furthermore, the decision to pick Wriddhiman Saha ahead of Rishabh Pant seemed to defy all cricketing logic. The left-hander dasher might be going through a lean patch in the limited-overs format but he showed his class when he belted a century in the warm-up game against Australia A. The fact that Pant was the second-highest run-scorer for India during the last tour down under should have been a reason enough for his inclusion in the playing XI.
However, skipper Kohli once again left a lot to be desired by his paunchy team selection. Playing the supposedly best keeper didn’t pay many dividends either as Saha dropped a couple of sitters and couldn’t snaffle up the half chances.
A pattern of faltering at the final hurdle
Kohli during the post-match presser said that we do not need to make a ‘mountain out of a molehill’ but the skipper cannot brush aside the topic so easily. Lately, it has become a trend with the Indian team where the team after playing some good brand of cricket tends to falter and gasp at the final hurdles.
It happened in the 2017 Champions Trophy and it happened again in the 2019 WC as well, not forgetting the 2016 T20 WC cricket. Under Kohli’s captaincy, India has failed to take the final leap and the losses cannot be squarely put under the reason of ‘we had a bad day’. Kohli’s decision making (Batting first in CT 17 final) has been questionable, to say the least.
Ego tussles between Virat-Rohit
Even before the tour began, the captain and the team management showed an utter lack of planning. The age-old controversy of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma not seeing eye to eye due to their inflated egos came to the fore, once again, in the lead up to the limited-overs and Test cricket series.
Virat, in one of the interviews, admitted that there was no clarity on the availability of Rohit Sharma. “The only other information we have received officially that he is at the NCA and he will be further assessed on December 11. From that selection meeting to IPL finishing till the last e-mail, there has been no information, lack of clarity and we have been playing the waiting game on this issue for a while, which is not ideal at all. It has been confusing,” Virat had said back then.
If the captain of the national team has no idea about his supposedly best player’s whereabouts then questions certainly will be asked as to what is being done by the team management and the BCCI to bridge the gap.
The curious case of Ravi Shastri
And then there is the curious case of the Indian Cricket Team Coach Ravi Shastri who has been receiving a lot of heat for the way he goes about his business. Shastri has already been made the butt of jokes and online trolling by cricket fans for his statement where he claimed that Prithvi Shaw was a mix of Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, and Brian Lara. Shastri has not helped his image by turning up at interviews half-dazed, making outrageous statements (Pitch gaya bhadh me, goti muhh me aa gya tha, best touring party in history).
The access of convenience between Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri was one of the reasons why a hard taskmaster and a legend of the game like Anil Kumble had to bid farewell to the top coaching position. Virat wanted a coach who gave him the freedom to do whatever he wanted and in Shastri, he found the perfect foil.
Kohli’s captaincy needs work
Kohli might be a champion in his game and no one denies it but his captaincy and man-management leaves a lot to be desired. There is a feeling that players are not able to express themselves as freely under him then they can under someone else. The example of IPL and Kohli’s team Royal Challengers Bangalore has been presented numerously by the analysts.
RCB during the 13 years of IPL has failed to win the competition once and Kohli despite being the captain has failed to marshal his troops to get over the final hurdle. Compare that to Rohit Sharma, the skipper of Mumbai Indians and you will see a diametrically opposite approach.
Unlike Virat, Rohit persists with players and gives them the long run, and when it is required tactically to change the team composition, then only does it. An example being this year’s IPL final where Sharma brought in right arm off-spinner Jayant Yadav to counter Delhi Capital’s left-hand opener Shikhar Dhawan. And the ploy instantly worked as Jayant rapped Dhawan in front of the wickets on the pads to send him packing back to the hut, early on in his innings.
The issues plaguing the Indian cricket team run deep. The team needs to look at the larger picture and try to make mends to their ways. Otherwise, between sporadic successes, the horror shows of Adelaide will be sprinkled in between and there’s only an extent to which an ardent cricket follower can take the humiliation in his/her stride.