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Why Kohli & Shastri should have used their own mind instead of ours.

by Gaurav Sethi

Murali Vijay’s Test career could be all but over. How did that happen? Wasn’t he supposed to be the guardian of the worlds outside off stump? Our man Friday in England? By Sunday, 12th August, Lord’s was lost. As was Vijay. Bagging a pair often questions whether you have one.

Scores of 20, 6, 0, 0 marked Vijay’s slide, his Test average slipped below 40. Seven years ago, Virender Sehwag bagged a pair in Birmingham. Even though he played 16 more Tests scattered over the next 18 months, that England series marked Sehwag’s slide. 4, 18, 0, 3 – Gambhir’s series tally in England, 2014, was one run less than Vijay’s in 2018 in as many innings. Over the following two years and two months, Gambhir played two more Tests.

England does that to some of the best. What, only the other day, Alastair Cook made his retirement call. And he’s English.

In eight innings so far, India’s other opener, KL Rahul has scored 113 runs to Cook’s 109 in seven innings. Both are exceptional slip catchers.

After falling leg before wicket and hands in the air to Bumrah, England’s other opener, Keaton Jennings’ dismissal received more replays than even Virat Kohli google eyed one to Adil Rashid in the Lord’s ODI. He’s been possibly the most condemned opener both sides. Yet, with 130 runs in the series, he could well open the batting in all five Tests and beyond.

And what about Shikhar Dhawan – unlike openers on both sides, he’s made it to double figures in every innings – in all, 158 runs in six innings.

Series won, 3-1 up, England has lost one of their openers. India on the other hand, may have lost three openers in their three defeats.

Each one has been in varying degrees held responsible for India’s defeats. If India fields new openers in the fifth Test, they too could add to the tally.

First Test: India opened with Dhawan-Vijay. This move lacked conviction, it took one defeat, that also a close one (31 runs) to toss the opening plan aside. In the second Test, India opened with Vijay-Rahul.

It took a second defeat to toss this opening aside too. By the third Test, India was opening with another pair – Dhawan-Rahul.

Dhawan’s dismissals and overseas record come in for a lot of flak – almost as much as Cheteshwar Pujara’s.

Writing these two off (for their overseas record) is an occupation in itself; it can be so easily cut-paste from one opinion to the other that even if there was some doubt to it, that doubt has been masked.

Dhawan might have outscored Vijay, 39 to 26 runs in the first Test, even occupying the crease for 120 minutes to Vijay’s 96 but public opinion thought otherwise.

The team went with that opinion. It didn’t work. So, next Test they went with their gut. It worked, India won, they stuck to their gut.

Few foresaw Vijay’s failures, it forced the team’s hand. But in a way, it was in sync with its underlying belief of aggression over defence.

Something, if all things are equal (a home or Asia series), it would quite happily revert to at the drop of a more traditional Test batsman.

Pujara’s unbeaten century however, manoeuvers the team in another direction. It asks uncomfortable questions of the taskmasters – makes them revisit the follies of dropping him for the first Test.

Today, Virat Kohli as Test captain is a constant. The others are variables. And while a defeat often hurls a lot of questions, there really is only one that needs to be asked – why is there so little belief in the abilities of players?

Why has it come to a point that the batsmen are always on notice? Is public opinion, that’s fickle enough to change from one session to the other, running this team?

It’s empowering to know that our collective criticism of Dhawan’s game outside off ultimately decides he sits on the bench.

After Kuldeep Yadav’s success in the T20s and ODIs, everyone and their uncle backed him for Test selection. He was not picked for the first Test. However, after the loss at Birmingham, even the rain gods couldn’t stop Kuldeep – he was picked after the first day was washed out, with the rest of the Test under a cloud. India missed that extra seamer. Kuldeep bagged a pair. He returned home with Vijay, bowling nine overs in whites.

By the fourth Test, there was enough indication for India to play two spinners. England had announced their team on match eve with both Adil Rashid and India’s old tormentor from Southampton, Moeen Ali.

In 2014, when Moeen Ali grabbed eight wickets at Southampton, Jadeja wangled five – three of which were when England was on the charge. Jadeja was not picked. Ali took nine wickets. Ashwin who did play, three wickets for his troubles from 51 overs.

Whether Ashwin was fit or not is an altogether different debate. India ignored both history and the conditions. Reasons for picking Jadeja or retaining Kuldeep far outweighed by those in favour of Hardik Pandya.

Just as bowling Kuldeep was an afterthought at Lord’s, Pandya was at Southampton. His 17 overs went for 85, he made 4 and 0.

In all likelihood, Jadeja will come in for Pandya at the Oval. If he doesn’t, then Jadeja for Ashwin. Whatever happens, it will be for a dead rubber.

With so little belief in Jadeja, retaining Kuldeep may not have been a bad idea. But they were swayed by one match with conditions that were far more ideal for rainwater harvesting than a wrist spinner’s first Test in England with the Duke ball.

It might have been a close series, and that too with such little conviction. Wonder how it would’ve panned out, if they had used their brains, instead of ours.


Anonymous said...

I was surprised when I read a couple of days ago, that Vijay was back in Chennai and playing first division. The rapidity with which he was sent back indicates that there is more to it than his lack of form.Wonder, whether he has fallen foul of the management.

Having said that, Vijay is always injured at the end of series. Even, during the recent IPL even though he was a part of the team, he never played courtesy his injury. Methinks his injuries are faked because he is always ready in time for the next Test series. His attitude must have finally done him. - Ottayan

Gaurav Sethi said...

Did you read about the footballer who faked injuries throughout his career, never playing a single game - it's being made into a movie. Unless they're faking that too.