It wasn’t until the last question of the post-match press conference after the innings defeat at Headingley that India skipper Virat Kohli felt he was in a ‘cricket ki press conference’.
The question was on whether the Indian batsmen are being more troubled by the line or the length of the England bowlers.
In his reply, Kohli spoke about how good England’s bowlers were on Day 4 and how it forced the Indian batsmen to be very precise with their decision-making. He also recognised that the opposition bowlers won’t make it easy for India and how his team will need double the concentration and double the effort in the remaining matches.
The other questions up to that point had focussed on India’s double collapse, the make-up of the team going forward, the need perhaps for an extra batsman given the team’s batting struggles. But Kohli had dismissed them all with his usual — ‘outside noise, we don’t know what is going on and we don’t care.’
In the first innings at Leeds, Kohli’s side lost the last eight wickets for 57 runs in 30 overs. In the second innings, in conditions everyone thought would be good for batting, the last eight wickets were lost for 63 runs in 16.1 overs.
To most skippers, this would be a cause of worry. But to Kohli, it is just an ‘aberration’ even though it is pretty clear that India’s middle-order has been a problem for a while now. The Indian skipper prefers to think in terms of partnerships rather than individual records as that is what he believes helps the team more.
“Partnership batting is very important,” said Kohli. “I know a lot of people become very obsessed with numbers… who is scoring how many runs and who is playing with what average but eventually the important thing is how many partnerships are we stringing together. Even a total of 250-300 can be a pretty big total here, so even if you have 50-60 run partnerships taking you to that total, then your job is done. So that has to be our focus — how effectively can we do our partnership batting rather than talking about what the individuals have not done.”
India batting averages after three Tests
Kohli is trying to look at the big picture and as a captain and that is exactly what he must do. But how does India get their partnerships going if the middle order consistently goes missing? To be fair, Pujara and Kohli found some form in the second innings of the third Test and the Indian team management will hope the duo can keep it going in the last two Tests too but Rahane and Pant still look shaky.
Some other skippers might have looked at playing an additional batsman to give the team some sense of security. But the Indian skipper isn’t thinking like that.
“I don’t believe in the balance,” said Kohli. “I have never believed in that balance because you can either try and save a defeat or you can try and win the game. We have drawn games in the past with a similar number of batters in the team. So if your top 6-7 don’t do the job, that extra guy is no guarantee of bailing you out every time. You have to accept that as a team you take responsibility and take pride in doing the job for the team. If you don’t have the resources or the ability to take 20 wickets going into a Test match, then you are already playing for only two results and that is not how we play.”
It is an ultra-aggressive strategy that hinges on the batsmen doing their part and if they don’t, then the risk of a collapse, especially in places like England, where the ball moves almost all through the innings, is greater. It is a risk and Kohli is clearly ready to live with it.
India don’t have many positives to take away from Leeds but Kohli wants his team to stay away from all the negative talk. He doesn’t want to put any pressure on Rishabh Pant, Ishant Sharma or Ajinkya Rahane. For now, he wants to believe in the group; he wants to keep the faith.
“I know what happens when we lose one game,” said the India skipper. “And we are not going to fall into this space where we start picking on issues or one or two things to talk about. We fail as a team and we win as a team.”
India will back this team’s ability to bounce back after humbling defeats. They have done it in the past and if nothing else, the resilience of this group is world-class.
“As I have said in the past when we have lost, we have played sessions that are way below par,” said the skipper. “We were not up to the standard we can play. Like this morning, we needed to control the tide, how do you make sure that you are solid enough in your decision-making to overcome the situation. These are the only things we need to keep in mind.”
Kohli further added: “You can’t become a bad team overnight. And if a win doesn’t guarantee you a win in the next game, even a loss doesn’t guarantee you a loss. It all depends on your mindset and how you arrive at the next game. And I can assure you that we will arrive with a lot more determination and more intensity than we had in this game.”
The Test series, tied at 1-1 with two Tests to go, will move to The Oval now. It is traditionally one of the best batting surfaces in England and India will hope they can do a quick turnaround and get back on track in time for the match which begins on September 2.