India’s meek draw in the first Test against England looks to have warranted a scapegoat. Leg-spinner Amit Mishra seems to have been chosen to take the fall as India looked to wrest control of the series. The 33-year-old was dropped from the playing eleven for the second Test, and replaced by debutant Jayant Yadav.
Mishra, who admitted to bowling poorly in Rajkot, was one of two exclusions from the team that played the first Test. The logic behind the two changes though was in stark contrast.
One change saw Gautam Gambhir make way for regular opener KL Rahul, who was returning to the side after recovering from injury. Rahul had even impressed in the Ranji Trophy with scores of 76 and 106 not out while playing for Karnataka against Rajasthan
In every sense the change was warranted and practical. Especially considering Gambhir’s lack of application against the English pace attack in Rajkot, which operated sans spearhead James Anderson on a relatively true wicket. An in-form, tried and tested Rahul was always a logical change.
It wasn’t his fault alone
By contrast, Mishra’s exclusion was quite perplexing. He too, like Gambhir had failed to impress. However, what was working in his favour were a multitude of reasons. One being the lack of spin-friendly conditions and two, the collective failure of India’s bowling attack which failed to deliver on the sporting wicket and the lack of experienced options in the squad.
Rajkot was a tough Test for bowlers overall, with England piling on over 500 runs in their first innings. Mishra came away the poorest from the game with just three wickets.
Speaking after the game, he admitted to his “poor show” and promised to do well in the second Test at Visakhapatnam. The decks were clear for Mishra to redeem himself. It was at Vizag that he had picked up a five-wicket haul less than a month ago in the final One-Day International of the five-match series against New Zealand.
The leg-spinner had made optimum use then of the spin-friendly track. It was his effort that floored the Kiwi batsmen and helped India bowl them out for just 79 to bring the till then tightly-fought series to an anticlimactic conclusion.
Kohli though had other ideas. The Indian Test skipper hinted ahead of the game that there was no room for ‘grooming for any player when playing against a top-side like England.’ It was a jibe directed at Mishra, who had blamed lack of Test match practice for his below-par performance.
However, there were a number of reasons for India’s loss. To pinpoint the blame on Mishra would be too harsh.
Chopping and changing
India great Sunil Gavaskar too admitted that the decision to drop Mishra was unjust. Speaking to NDTV following the end of play on the first day in Vizag on Thursday, Gavaskar said, “It’s surprising that Amit Mishra has been dropped. I think he has been made a scapegoat for India’s failure to bowl out England in the 1st Test in Rajkot.”
Since taking over as captain, Kohli has used Mishra sparingly. In West Indies, He was given only two games. Against New Zealand, he sat on the bench for all three Tests. Against England, he has now been dropped after just one Test.
Even in the game, Mishra is always the last bowler, Kohli turns to and invariably bowls the least number of over between him, Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
Taking tough decisions is the job of a captain. And when one is as used to winning as Kohli has been, a few hasty ones can be common. While, Mishra’s exclusion is not shocking, he could have been persisted with considering the conditions at Visakhapatnam and his recent form at the venue.