23 June 2013, India under the captaincy of MS Dhoni lifted the Champions Trophy amidst a rain-curtailed game by prevailing in the last over by making a comeback from a seemingly hapless position. Fast forward to 2021, Virat Kohli’s men surrendered a golden chance to lay hands on the maiden silverware trophy of the World Test Championship.
Walking in at 32/2 on the sixth and final day of the match, India’s supposed two best Test batsmen in the squad, Kohli and Pujara had their work cut out. The mission brief was simple, bat solidly till Lunch, steer the team to a position where it cannot lose the match and if there is an opening, go for the kill. A ploy, akin to the one India had used to utmost perfection in Sydney, as well as the breach of the Gabba – the two heroics that encapsulated India’s burgeoning Test prowess in the last two years.
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With the sun beating down on the surface at the Ageas Bowl, the conditions were as perfect as they could have been for India to first save the game, and later press on for an improbable victory. However, what happened afterwards was a routine collapse of the team that has brandished itself as the new ‘chokers’ of the cricketing world in the ICC tournaments
New Zealand under Kane Williamson’s astute captaincy accessed the conditions perfectly, fielded the right combination, set the precise fields and ensured that once put under the pump, the Indians were not let off the hook.
Kohli was the first one to depart as he fished out his bat outside on an away swinging delivery from a towering Kyle Jamieson, whose decision to not bowl to his RCB skipper with the duke’s ball during the IPL seemed to have paid dividends. Since his heroics at the 2016 T20 WC Semi-Final, which India lost eventually, Kohli has looked a pale shadow of his former self on the big, knockout stages of the ICC finals.
Kyle Jamieson was the tormentor-in-chief in the first innings after troubling Indians in his debut series last year. NZ used him effectively while the old workhorses in Tim Southee and Trent Boult played their part well. Neil Wagner, the gutsy left-arm pacer, is the kind of player that epitomises the new Kiwi side and he left it all out in the field during the fag end of the second innings when he bowled 14 short deliveries consecutively to edge out Ravindra Jadeja.
While India’s defeat might leave a bigger scar than the 2019 WC exit against the same opposition, it was the manner in which Kohli conducted in the post-match conference that leaves much to be desired.
Rather than owning up that he got his team composition slightly wrong, and that batters played an outright timid brand of cricket, Kohli demanded a best of three-match Finals.
“If you saw the way the game went with whatever time we got on the field, as well, why wouldn’t you want to see two more Tests of the same teams battling it out and eventually being the winners of the World Test Championship,” said Kohli.
Anyone that has followed the WTC understands that the format of the tournament is still marred by a lot of confusion. If VAR takes the cake for the most difficult sporting concept to wrap one’s minds around, try levelling with the points distribution system of WTC. However, more tellingly, Kohli knew that it was a one-match affair, winner takes it all scenario, with no room for if’s and but’s and yet the skipper subtly chastened the format of the final, all the while hiding his side’s abysmal performance.
The merits and demerits of a three-match finale aside, which can be a topic of a separate discussion, Kohli cannot blame the format of the game and the usual ‘30 minutes of bad cricket cost us the game’ rhetoric to get away. He comes across as a sore loser in either of the two situations, especially when he remarks that New Zealand played better cricket.
Kohli has been captaining RCB since 2013. He has been India’s captain since 2014 and yet one is yet to see a single multi-nation or a franchise trophy in Kohli’s hand. Something is clearly amiss from his captaincy that the team pays for inadvertently on the big stage.
It is understandable that Ashwin and Jadeja are two of the best spinners in the modern cricketing world, but with a pitch that had been under the covers for two days straight, and with chances of potential rain on the third and fourth day, India maybe, should have rejigged its plans.
Seeing New Zealand going with an all-pace battery should have given an indication of the conditions but once again Kohli’s rigidity with team selection and not willing to make the requisite changes cost him and his country, the match.
And once again, with textbook accuracy, Kohli bemoaned for a choice that was not there for the taking. The skipper remarked that he would have loved to play a fast-bowler allrounder, seemingly, pointing towards one Hardik Pandey who hasn’t rolled his arms in ages after a back injury.
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India faltered at the big stage, in a tournament that was supposed to grant the bragging rights to be called the ‘Champions of Test Match cricket’ for the first time in the illustrious 150-year history of the game. The euphoric highs of Australia have been plateaued by the defeat on yet another ‘reserve’ day of cricket. Perhaps, we go again hard in the upcoming England series but the hearts will ache, for we have endured another cricketing heartbreak.
In nutshell, NZ played like a well-oiled team where the player roles were well-defined. Kane Williamson deserves the accolades for his aggressive captaincy despite having a wildly opposite, calm and a zen-like demeanour.