New Delhi: Virat Kohli the batsman exorcised the ghosts of a horrendous 2014 series but his captaincy left a lot to be desired in the just-concluded series against England which again turned out to be a case of ”what it could have been”. Kohli is, in fact, right when he says that barring Lord’s Test, they were not totally outplayed but England played better cricket during key moments during the 1-4 loss. The series was testimony that batsman Kohli is heads and shoulders above his peers not just in India but in world cricket.
The 593 runs, with two hundreds and two half centuries, and his battle of attrition with old nemesis Jimmy Anderson will remain stuff of legends. The difference was stark with the second-highest scorer being KL Rahul — 299 runs, 149 of those coming in a dead rubber when the pressure was off. Where Kohli erred was not realising that his teammates were not as prepared for testing English conditions as he was. The Indian team reduced the duration of its lone practice game against County Champions Essex, a move that was criticised by none other than Sunil Gavaskar.
Kohli, however, differed stating that practice matches are worth it only if there is a good opposition to compete against and pitches of Test quality. ”Kohli should understand that if he doesn’t play for a month, he would still come out and score runs. But others need practice. And in practice games you won’t get Test quality attacks. But the batsmen and bowlers in match situation add miles to their legs. It’s better than taking throwdowns,” Gavaskar had said on air for the series broadcasters.
The biggest problem that plagued India was dodgy team selection. Cheteshwar Pujara, who played a significant role in the Trent Bridge victory and scored a determined hundred was dropped from the first Test based on his poor county form. The Test specialist ended with 278 runs in the series.
Kohli’s over-dependence on Hardik Pandya’s all-round abilities in red ball cricket can also be questioned. A total of 164 runs including a half century at a time when India was about to declare and a five-wicket haul in Trent Bridge were his only tangible contributions across four Tests. That he never possessed the defensive technique to bat at No 6 was evident and he was ill at ease against the swinging deliveries.
His opposite number Sam Curran became an x-factor in the series with two match winning all round performances — at Edgbaston (1st Test) and the series-clinching fourth game at Southampton. The skipper’s persistence with Shikhar Dhawan, who has been a walking wicket outside the sub-continent, also created problems at the top of the order.
Since the 2013 South Africa tour, Dhawan has shown both lack of technique and temperament in top Test playing nations. A total of 162 runs in eight innings probably will shut doors on his Test career for the time being as Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal are waiting in the wings for their opportunity.
While Kohli was unlucky to lose all five tosses but his reading of the pitches and the team combinations left a lot to be desired. Not picking a second spinner in Edgbaston, where the pitch offered turn and bounce, was an error. It was compounded by the choice of a second spinner at the Lord’s where conditions aided seamers.
While India inarguably have the best set of fast bowlers who used the conditions well, they were often guilty of not being able to get rid of the England lower order that showed depth and character. It happened in second innings at Edgbaston, both innings at Southampton and also at the Oval.
But it was nonetheless a decent performance from Ishant Sharma (18), Jasprit Bumrah (16) and Mohammed Shami (14) who gave it their all during the series. Ravichandran Ashwin lacked the bite when he had the most helpful conditions in Southampton, a pitch that could have been ideal for someone like Ravindra Jadeja.
Just that Broad and Anderson were a bit more relentless with fine support from Curran, Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali.
The communication regarding where individuals stood also came under scanner after Karun Nair, an original selection was made to warm the benches even as Hanuma Vihari pipped him in playing eleven.
Vihari scored a gutsy 56 but would have bagged a pair had Stuart Broad appealed for DRS for a plumb leg before decision in the first innings. The silver lining will certainly be KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant’s hundreds in the fourth innings chase. But Pant’s glovework was par and Rahul finally got his mojo back after nine consecutive failures. Sanjay Manjrekar put it aptly on Twitter. ”While applauding KL Rahul and Pant, might be best in the interest of Indian cricket to not attach great importance to the last Test result, even if India had won. Assessment and lessons learnt should be on the basis of What happened till the series was alive,” Manjrekar tweeted.
To sum it up, India have lost six away Test matches this year at a time when the chief coach Ravi Shastri says that this is the best travelling team. Facts are sacrosanct and they tell a different story even though skipper Kohli was a touch irritated when a scribe asked him a question about the supposed tall claims made by the coach. Come December, Kohli’s India will have a shot at Australia, a team that won’t have David Warner and Steve Smith, the two game changers. Kohli would be hoping for a merry Christmas Down Under.