Defeat is always unpalatable, but in taking an adversarial position with the media during an after the Test series against England, skipper Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri were missing the woods for the trees.
The five-Test contest had undoubtedly been thrilling. India did not give up their will to compete, commendably even after the series had been lost. But the 1-4 scoreline is telltale, and severely mitigates the arguments forwarded by the captain and coach.
It could be that the captain and coach were deliberately painting a rosier picture of the situation to keep the morale of the rest of the team high: not just for this series but everything else that is lined up over the next eight-nine months.
Such crisis management, however, should not obscure India’s problems and shortcomings which are all within the dressing room, not outside. Hopefully Kohli and Shastri are not living in denial. To be fair, winning a Test series in England has an extremely high difficulty quotient, evident from the fact that India have achieved this only thrice and at extraordinarily long intervals, in 1971, 1986, 2007.
Kohli’s team held out rich promise of becoming the fourth, but it wasn’t to be. While this series was far closer than those played in 2011 and 2014, the end result is not much better, the only virtue being the competitive spirit shown by the team. In competitive sport, the closeness of the contest offers limited solace which will wear off in a few weeks. What will remain forever is the unflattering score-line. India were the number 1 ranked Test side, had shown fine lead-in form and England had been struggling badly earlier in the summer, against Pakistan and even Ireland. To have then lost four of five Tests should hurt the captain, coach and the team.
What makes it worse is that the result could so easily have been the other way around. Splendid opportunities were lost in four of the five Tests (Lord’s being the exception) as the team lacked old fashioned spunk at crucial times, and at other times, the ‘killer instinct’, to use an old cliche.
What caused India’s downfall? In hindsight, some part must be assigned to poor luck. The toss can matter a lot in England and Kohli called incorrectly in all five Tests. At Lord’s, it must be said, India got the worst of the weather, batting in overcast conditions and bowling when it was bright and sunny.
But this was also compounded, let’s face it, with some blunders in selection (not playing a fourth seamer at Lord’s) as well as tactical shortcomings in getting rid of the English lower order in match after match which eroded the outstanding effort by the bowlers right through the series.
The biggest setback was the failure of the top order, Kohli excepted. The Indian captain batted magnificently, but found no echo in the performances of the other frontline batsmen. That the next best aggregate was more than 300 runs behind Kohli, reveals clearly where the problem lay. Rousing centuries by K L Rahul and Rishabh Pant in the final Test highlighted their potential, but this came after the series was lost. Pujara made a superb century in the fourth Test, but otherwise had only modest success.
Rahane, touted as India’s best batsman overseas, was even less productive The biggest disappointments were seasoned openers Dhawan and Murali Vijay, the latter in fact losing his place in the team mid-way through. Had India got half decent starts, the result of the series may well have been different.
But that is in the realm of ifs and buts. The harsh truth is that Indian underperformed. The good part is that the reasons for this are now well known, which gives Kohli, Shastri and the selectors something to work on for the future.
In my opinion, this can be distilled to a couple of key things. One, the selectors have to do an honest post-mortem and not indulge in players refusing to come out of their comfort zone, being able to perform well only in conditions that suit them. If this means some star players getting the axe, so be it.
The second is perhaps the more crucial. While he has been able to raise his own performance several notches as a player, as captain Kohli (by extension this applies to coach Kohli too) has to reexamine his communication within the dressing room to ensure that winning positions are not so easily and regularly squandered....