South Africa vs India 2018: How makeshift team selection is impeding India overseas
Choosing the right players off the field is as important as calling the right shots on the field!
The tragedy of life is often not in our failure, but rather in our complacency; not in our doing too much, but rather in our doing too little; not in our living above our ability, but rather in our living below our capacities
- Benjamin E Mays
Imagine, you wish to bake a cake. The best cake devoured by men in a long, long time.
You try out several ingredients, rake through various flavour combinations voraciously, bring in the best of culinary experts to guide you, compel yourself to peruse through your trials and errors consistently, and exhaust yourself like clockwork for constant enhancement of its taste.
Then, when the time comes, you end up relying on your eleventh-hour instinct, thrusting all that preparation down the drain.
Difficult to imagine, isn't it?
This is exactly what the Indian Cricket Team resorted to in their first match of a long overseas haul, right at the commencement of a season that would test them in the most gruelling and belligerent manner.
Through a protracted home season that comprised of as many as thirteen Tests, they analysed every player with forethought as well as introspection, picked and chose their men according to the conditions, gave every individual a long enough rope to make a strong case for himself, and over two years, built a strong playing XI solicitously.
This was a team that looked thoroughly armoured for war.
Its body had the spine to withstand ferocity, the stomach to cross swords with setbacks, the shin to boss through bruises, and the soul to tyrannize the longest format of the game.
It sketched the portrait of an Indian side that could plead serious contest in overseas tussles. A plan was rod up Virat Kohli's canon, ready to be fired.
However, as they say, even the best-laid schemes of mice and men go awry. The Mediterranean winds of Cape Town flew past the unsuspecting Indian skipper and before he could respond to the chills, his batting line-up came apart at (and by) the seams!
The triple-R blunder
When people have too many choices, they make bad choices
- Thom Browne
Can you truly outcast the 2nd Violin of an orchestra ensemble, and expect the melody to reach the rhythmic crescendo, despite his absence?
Ajinkya Rahane is not only the vice-captain of this Indian team, but also a commendable customer in white flannels, more so outside Asia. His evenness brings equilibrium to the otherwise extravagant side, his calm disposition helps maintain variety in the batting unit, his vigilant fielding brings assurance to the slip cordon.
Dropping him from the side at the initiation of an overseas season is not bold, but blasphemous.
Even if the team management lawyer with the 'current form' argument to axe Rahane, the sample space used to make the decision still seems bleak: Rohit Sharma outperformed his Mumbai counterpart in three home Tests against Sri Lanka at the near end of last year, which led to the former's inclusion in the side.
However, this meek side was whitewashed by India in its own backyard just a couple of months prior to that tour. Can performances against them outweigh everything that preceded them for four long years?
Shikhar Dhawan, too, cannot hold a candle to KL Rahul in Test cricket, especially in seaming conditions.
His inclusion in the team ahead of Rahul is like expecting a husky to play more than a labrador in Indian conditions. These are unsuitable conditions that clearly put the former out of his depth!
Rahul's temperament, technique and overall tally are ideal for the notions and nuances of the format. He must take precedence over Dhawan to take the guard with Murali Vijay at the apex of the batting order.
The downside of long-drawn success
Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive
- Andy Grove
Indian Test cricket was on song in the 52 weeks of the 2016-17 season, where it tumbled a platitude of age-old records and lynched every team in its way. The numbers were piling up, the invincible run extended itself with every series, hundreds were scored for fun, teams were bundled up with ease, and a plethora of dominant performances came through.
However, under the tremendous rainbow of these achievements, everyone overlooked a solitary cloud, one which stated that they came in the daylight of home conditions. Familiar setting.
Magic begins outside the comfort zone and as Michael Caine says in The Prestige, "magicians live by dressing up plain and simple truths to shock and to amaze."
For Kohli and his men to live up to their top spot in the ICC Test rankings, they must pick up that wooden willow or that cork ball, use them to create impeccable moments on the field and conjure that magic in its purest form.
Best XI for the job
You're never as ready as you think you are. You're never as ready as you need to be
- Tim Griffin
When Arsene Wenger went up against Pep Guardiola's dominant Manchester City last year, he made the grave mistake of benching two top ballers for the game. Arsenal paid the price for this imbecile selection with a heavy defeat.
While football still gives a chance to correct teams with substitutions, cricket has no margin for error in this aspect. Kohli and Ravi Shastri must remember that a chain is as strong as its weakest link.
The highlights of the Indian dismissals in the first Test seem like a blooper reel more than anything else. No doubt, the batsmen have been goaded into fumbling and falling, but they must know how to hold out better, put a price on their wickets and resist being seduced by that delivery outside the off-stump.
India must choose players conditioned for the same, put exclusive emphasis on team selection and to not settle for just papering the cracks borne by their defeat in the game.
As and when they do this, the Asian giants will have a chance to fare well in overseas conditions.