Ravi Shastri’s proclaimed best traveling unit has lost its way. Gabba’s terrific start to 2021 is now buried under the thrashing Virat Kohli’s side took in Cape Town at the hands of an opposition barely considered a threat in most pre-series assessments.
In fact, the way the series took off with India finishing the first day at 272 to three should have set the trend. KL Rahul’s century secured a resounding victory. The performance was so strong that Sunil Gavaskar predicted a 3-0 win.
Gavaskar was not to blame. The Indian team, enjoying their performance in Australia and England, was touted as the best combination in the world of test cricket. South Africa, on the other hand, struggled to field a strong combination after a few retirements and withdrawals: AB de Villiers and Quinton de Kock. In the absence of Anrich Nortje, even bowling was not at its best for the home team.
This was supposed to be India’s best chance to make history by winning their first series in South Africa. The victory at Centurion, India’s first at the venue, promised much. But he floundered in the next two matches, exposing India’s shortcomings. There was not a single session of dominance by the team that had won the first test so handily.
India lost the last two tests to concede the series to South Africa. Photo: REUTERS -REUTERS
India’s famous batting lineup, especially the middle order, held no answer for South African fast pitchers. Once again, the fallibility against the ball when moving or bouncing showed the Indian batsmen in a poor light. There was little resistance from the trusted couple of Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane. Even Virat Kohli was a shadow of the dominant hitter he is known to be.
The burning question was the inclusion of Rahane and Pujara in the playing XI, even as they evidently struggled to get it right with their temper and footwork. It was obvious that they were relying on their reputation when reality begged them to give up their places to the likes of Hanuma Vihari and Shreyas Iyer. Too long a rope for these veterans was the growing refrain in the cricket fraternity.
Except for Rishabh Pant, the batting lacks a match winner. Kohli, the best batsman on both sides, was sadly not at his best, with technical glitches in his batting. Despite his 79 out of 201 balls in the final Test, his lack of confidence was evident in dealing with a dedicated off-stump runner being chased by South African bowlers. India’s problems multiplied when Kohli was torn by this situation to attack or wait.
Kohli missed the second test and returned to a team lacking plans and ideas. By sticking with Rahane and Pujara, the team leadership, against Kohli’s wishes, displayed a defeatist mentality.
Except for Rishabh Pant, the batting lacks a match winner. Photo: PTI
The long-awaited culture change in the locker room may still be slow to find its roots. It is not fair to expect Rahul Dravid to sound out radical reforms. In five tests, he has faced three captains: Rahane, Rahul and Kohli. It’s worth remembering that patience was Dravid’s greatest virtue as a hitter and he’s not going to discount that policy when evaluating his team. Rahane and Pujara would have been relieved by their appointment, but they did not contribute.
Australia’s gains were lost to South Africa. The first day at Centurion was an aberration for South Africa, but he came back with amazing confidence in Johannesburg and Cape Town, winning by seven wickets both times. Much had been made of the Last Frontier campaign, but India emerged victorious due to their batting failures. The strong batting that India boasted was dismantled by the relatively inexperienced South African attack apart from Kagiso Rabada.
South Africa won because of their belief that they had little to lose against an opposition that had greater claims as a test combination. Gabba’s win was a classic for the ages and much of the anticipation for a series win in South Africa was based on the team’s overall performance throughout the year. It came to nothing in South Africa when India’s batsmen let the team down.
India also drew the ire of its critics due to the on-field behavior of some players, including skipper Kohli. The captain was guilty of letting his frustration get the best of him. It is true that his trademark aggressiveness appeals to young fans, but he did not sit well with many cricket insiders, who expect the captain to set an example on the pitch. These are tough times for Kohli, battling poor form, but by relinquishing the captaincy and leaving the option to decide the fate of Pujara and Rahane with the selectors, Kohli has spoken his mind.
India also drew the ire of its critics due to the on-field behavior of some players, including skipper Kohli. Photo: Reuters
India cannot afford to bear the burden of two underperforming batsmen in the middle order. Faulty footwork has put Pujara and Rahane in chains. The duo have played match-winning roles in the past. But his lack of consistency has hurt the team a lot. The pressure to deliver has only increased on Rahane and Pujara. The South African tour has only hastened his departure and Kohli had also felt the end of his lifelong comrades.
It’s no surprise that Kohli just wants to focus on his hitting right now. The apparent breakdown in communication with Board Chairman Sourav Ganguly and the new selection committee chairman went a long way in convincing Kohli that his contributions to Indian cricket were being undermined at a time when he needed support. . Constant media leaks questioning his integrity and his own form proved to be a lethal combination for Kohli to relinquish the event captaincy.
It was time for him to move on. No player is bigger than the game, but we will miss the aggression that marked Kohli’s tenure. He also compared the aggression with the facts. With the pressures of captaincy out of his mind, Kohli can be his natural self, the free-flowing hitter of all formats.
The task of the selectors is, now, challenging. To find a new trial captain, and replacements for Rahane and Pujara and for team management to accept that while bowlers win trials, batsmen set them up. It is imperative that the process that one keeps hearing from the coach and the selectors is now. put on a course where performance and nothing else should matter. Dravid should know better. He had missed a season before he got a chance at Lord’s. It is up to him to shape the expectations of his fans. Do or die should be the norm as India has a large group of players waiting to intervene.