India's character at stake in South Africa after crushing loss
‘I shut my eyes, the world drops dead; I lift my eyes and all is born’
- Sylvia Plath
When Jasprit Bumrah nicked off Vernon Philander to signal the end of India’s abject surrender in Newlands, the cameras swiftly panned to Virat Kohli; the captain gaped on, his eyes were open yes, but they could well have been closed, there was emptiness in those expressive eyes, he looked on, there was pain, there was agony, there was punctured pride, there was everything no one associates with Virat Kohli; his world, his moulded space had all but collapsed all around him, he looked around, he was not shocked, he did not shudder, he just stared and blinked, he stood up, and meandered to the ground.
The world had dropped dead around him, the question is, will he lift them again, does he believe that everything will be born again?
We might have to wait for the answers, the questions gawking towards him and his band of boys are far more vocal, they need answers bereft of any sense of poetry and romance, these questions mean business, these questions have forever remained hinged with the Indian team whenever they have embarked on a foreign trip, every time the expectations inflate the sense of belief, every time, a crushing loss perforate the march, every time, a sense of disbelief filters through the ranks, every time, talks tone down!
Remarkably, the world we live in at the moment defines every step we take, the imprudent ones bask in self-glory, they are forever sure about their every footstep, while the academic ones keep questioning their move.
There is no shame in failing, there is no ignominy in faltering to a superior opponent, but yes, there is no pride in all the bravado which ultimately rings hollow.
Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri are vocal, they are eloquent, some even say they are loud, and while all these traits look affable when you ride the tide, they turn around and pinch you when you stutter, struggle, and fail.
Perhaps, mellowing down all the talk, going back to the drawing board, chucking out the egos and working on evening out the creases might be able to do the job instead of thumping the chest and blaring out a bugle signalling intent.
“I don’t think there was any lack of preparation. Even they got out for 130 in the second innings and they play here all the time,” Kohli said after the loss.
This is eerily similar to that very same sense of bravado people will slap back after every stumble. Yes, drawing out positives despite the ruins is a human trait, it in many ways helps people crawl out of a corner for any ray of miniscule light is enough to ignite hope, but yes, harking expletives after a shambolic performance do little to satiate the pointed questions.
“I think we let ourselves down with the bat, that’s for sure. Losing wickets in bunches never helps winning Tests. 208 (target) felt chaseable, but again we needed someone to go out there and get 75 or 80 and not 20-25-30 runs. We wanted one big partnership to get the job done, which we failed to do,” Kohli further added.
Now this is the thing with the Indian captain, he will never die wondering and when the situation demands he will not mince his words. Probably this is what defines greatness, the ability to be confident but then question your failings and looking out for solutions.
The batting was poor, the players who have peeled off runs for fun in home conditions were dawdling like ducks out of water when the pitch offered assistance to the bowlers.
Yes, South Africa stumbled, but Indians stumbled when it mattered the most, they blinked when the match was a stalemate, they floundered when one step in the opposite match could have altered the course.
As the teams walk away from Capetown to Centurion, the Indian team is replete with doubts, these doubts could well scar their entire psyche, but if taken with self-contemplation, these doubts might well act as that tonic, the catalyst that defines the character of the team.
Ahh, character, another word which is thrown around far too much in sports, it has become almost mandatory to utter this word after every performance.
But yes, back in the day, Hellen Keller summarized the importance of character when she said, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved”, she could have encapsulated the Indian team at this very moment.
Afterall, despite all their record-shattering march in home conditions over the past 18 months, coach Ravi Shastri almost poetically had muttered this, “The conditions will be testing, but like I have said before, this one and half years will define this Indian cricket team’s character and the whole team is aware of that."
Well, let’s now just wait for Centurion, and why shouldn’t we, the character is at stake here!