Virat Kohli - When the going gets tough, the tough gets going
There are reasons aplenty why India ended up on the losing side against England in spite of Kohli pulling off a near perfect performance and India’s bowlers experiencing yet another splendid outing.
Over-reliance on Kohli
Talk about India’s batting performances in the last few foreign tours, it's been horrendous, the South African tour being a competitive one can be attributed to Kohli’s batting exuberance and excellent seam bowling.
So much over-reliance on one batsman is fatal for India’s chances as a Test team in foreign conditions, Harsha Bhogle was quoted as saying that he remembers only one such instance when the touring Indian contingent depended so much on one batsman,it was the 1993 series when the Indian team relied heavily on Tendulkar’s batting.
Poor shot selection, lack of grit and determination
Look at the fate of some premier Indian batsmen playing in seaming conditions, the batting of Murli Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane seems to be a pale shadow of their glorious past. Vijay is no more the monk in the middle and Rahane jabbing at deliveries outside his off pole, not a sight to behold. Not to forget Shikhar Dhawan, he is a real flat track bully, his game is thrown off the mat when the ball starts nipping around.
The other batsmen did not show even half the determination and bravado that their captain displayed and skittled away like nine pins, wilting under pressure.
“Batting in these conditions ain’t easy, but at least show the heart to slog it out in the middle, yes you are made to look silly with the frequent close calls, yes you need little bit of luck to go your way but the more time you spend in the middle the better it gets for your batting,but at the moment it all looks gloomy with the Indian batsmen looking absolutely submissive.”
History has it that the Indian Test batting has always been the stronger suit but their bowling lacked the firepower to take 20 wickets in swing-friendly conditions. Now as it stands Indian fast bowling has got the variety and the ability to dismiss the best of batting line-ups but sadly the batting has taken a beating in the previous few foreign tours. Remember the South African tour, Indian bowlers managed to pick 20 wickets across all three tests but it was their batting which let them down.
Questionable team selections
Why has Pujara been kept out of the mix? Yes, he's been short of runs lately but how could you not select a batsman whose main job is to play out balls and blunt out opposition attacks? With the surfaces on offer in England, most of the times it is deemed to be a low scoring affair, where holding one end would be the ultimate goal.
Robbing the opposition attack of momentum is what Pujara does best and he could be the perfect foil to some naturally aggressive batsmen that India possess. In such conditions strike rate least matters, even if you play with a strike rate of 30 odd and hold one end up you are doing a commendable job. After all, you need batsmen with complimenting styles of play to lend a balance to the Indian batting.
In fact, the Indian think tank is itself responsible for Pujara’s lack of runs, the constant reminders sent out to him that he needs to do something about his strike rate has often forced him to play out a rushed inning and not be himself. How does strike rate matter in Test cricket and how many of the Indian batsmen manage to play at a strike rate above 50 in English conditions?
Maintaining a healthy strike rate is out of question and irrelevant in difficult batting conditions. Pujara even if he misses out in the initial few innings, it is a long series and at the end of it, his performances would be better than most of the so-called flamboyant Indian batsmen.
Lack of preparations
Is it becoming a cultural norm for the Indian team nowadays to practice by taking net sessions and not playing enough practice matches? Even hordes of net sessions do not give you the feel of a real match scenario. It just takes a solitary delivery to register a dismissal in matches, no luxury of retakes as in net sessions You can face a truckload of deliveries in the nets to iron out your deficiencies but nothing can replicate the conditions and environment of a proper match.
Let me take you a few months back to the tour of South Africa, the Indian team arrived just a few days before the test series started. Kohli and company advocated for teams to be sent much before the start of an all-important series so that players get enough time to acclimatize to the foreign conditions. The Indian team even cancelled their solitary practice match and focused on sweating it out in the nets. In all likelihood, teams should play at least two four day practice matches before the tour gets underway.
In England, they just had one practice match scheduled against Essex and that too was reduced to three days from four as a result of some last minute adjustments. The Indian team arrived almost a fortnight before the start of the series, they could have easily played two practice matches but once again rallied around the idea of net sessions. India seems to be the only team going around at the moment who are not so much into playing practice matches. Shortage of game time has thwarted players preparations leading into the matches.
The Indian batting looks to be surrounded by clouds of uncertainty. The idea going forward should be to remove the air of callousness and breathe strength into their batting. Should the Indian batsmen perform to their potential the series can live up to its billing of being a competitive one or else a repeat of the 2014 disaster.