Where does the buck Stop?
Hope has turned into despair. The Indian cricket team is once again at the receiving end of a thrashing in a test series being played outside the subcontinent. In December last year, when the Indian cricket team set out for South Africa as the number 1 test team in the world, with tours to England and Australia to follow, there was genuine belief that this team could achieve consistent success outside the subcontinent as well. There was big talk from the coach and the captain. Alas it has been all talk but no results.
The loss at Lords means that India has lost 5 of its last 5 test matches that it has played outside the subcontinent. One witnessed 4 days of pure theatre at Edgbaston. And it was a great game. Lords was a drubbing. In all probability the series against England will be lost. Opportunity of being recognized as a top test match team and consolidating the number 1 position in the world test match rankings has been lost. Questions need to be asked though one fears in the current environment surrounding Indian cricket they will not be asked.
Let us start with the captain and the coaching staff. The captain has been brilliant as a batsman. Indeed it has been his batting that has given respectability to the team even in in defeat. His hundred at Edgbaston was a top top effort. There is no better sight in world cricket than Virat Kohli in full flow. But some of the decisions taken by him (presumably in consultation with Ravi Shastri) have ben mystifying.
Selection is a bit of a mystery when this Indian team travels abroad. Of course a captain and the coach have prerogative to select the best XI players they think will help them win the test match. Hence it is not an issue about who is in and who is out. In South Africa, for the first two test matches, India went in with Dhawan, Vijay, Pujara, Kohli and Rohit with Rahane, arguably India’s beast test player overseas, being left out. Rahul replaced Dhawan and then Rahane walked in place of Rohit for the third test match. At Edgbaston, Pujara was dropped and Rahane, Rahul and Dhawan were preferred. There appears to be some confused thinking. Kohli and Shastri appear to be unsure of the best batting order. Constant chopping and changing has affected the mindset of the entire batting order and the two players who seem to have been affected the most are Pujara and Rahane.
It is clear that Kohli and Shastri are fans of the flamboyance that Rahul and Dhawan bring to the team. By extension it appears that Pujara often seems to be the fall guy due to the manner in which he plays. Pujara has not helped his cause by inconsistency outside India and it does appear that he struggles to score outside India being stuck very often. In India, Pujara is slow to start but accelerates after he is set so that his strike rate at the end of a big innings is pretty good. For some reason he has failed to replicate this ability outside India and hence the big scores have been missing. But to judge Pujara merely on the basis of runs scored would be doing his ability a bit of injustice.
Rahane also seems to have lost his fluency and solidity. On the last two tours to South Africa and England, Rahane was solid in defence but never failed to punish the bad ball. He seems to be unsure now on whether to attack or defend and often has been dismissed playing a tentative poke.
The thinking also appears to be a bit muddled. At Edgbaston, India played three seamers but in much more seamer friendly conditions at Lords (particularly after Day 1 was washed out), India preferred to go in with two front line seamers and two front line spinners. What made the decision even stranger was Kohli’s admission at the toss that he would have fielded first. If the intention was to field first surely a third seamer should have been picked?
India’s slip fielding leaves a lot to be desired and it is strange that in spite of this problem plaguing Indian cricket for a long time no serious questions are being asked of the fielding coach. At Lords Nasser Hussain mentioned on air how the slip fielders were standing too close to one another and how they appeared unsure on where to stand. If that indeed is the case then one needs to ask what job is the fielding coach doing. Indeed India has been consistently dropping catches in the slips but there appears to be no responsibility or accountability bestowed on anyone with respect to this problem.
The loss in South Africa was peppered over by the victory in the one day series against a South African team without Du Plessis, De Villiers and De – Kock. In England the Indian cricket team has lost the one day series and seems to be going downhill in the test series. Unless some hard questions are asked, there appears to be no way up for the Indian cricket team in England.