It is now well known that Virat Kohli doesn’t need a second invitation to change his playing XI. He has done it 36 times in a row and in the aftermath of the 31-run defeat in the first Test at Edgbaston, the easiest thing would be to go back and add to that list. Drop a few, add a few, change the mix and get back in the middle. It’s par for the course for the Indian skipper.
The top order’s poor show makes it a decision that not many will criticise either — not that Kohli cares about that but still... brownie points.
But for once, he should resist that urge and go into the second Test without changing his batting line-up. If Jasprit Bumrah is fit, he will probably come in for an Umesh Yadav; if the pitch is too dry, India may want to play another spinner but he should let the batsmen play another game and allow them to settle in.
Dropping Cheteshwar Pujara from a Test team can never be easy and Kohli and the team management would have (hopefully) given this decision a lot of thought ahead of the first game. So now, it is time for them to show confidence in their thought process and the batsmen they picked.
Yes, India would have liked their batting line-up to score a few runs but the conditions weren’t easy. Not for them and not for the England line-up. In the press conference after the game, Ravichandran Ashwin almost seemed to be calling for calm.
“It was quite a tough pitch to bat on. I don’t think batsmen from both sides were able to make runs with a lot of freedom barring the partnership between Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow in the first innings, and then Virat Kohli from our side. It has been quite a struggle that way so I think we need to give batsmen some space,” said Ashwin after the game.
And Ashwin is absolutely right. The need of the hour is not to drop the batsmen but to give them space and confidence. This is a long series and India still have a pretty good chance of finding a way back into it. But the constant chopping and changing is helping no one.
Ajinkya Rahane looks a shadow of his normal overseas self — he averages more abroad than at home. Pujara seems to be low on confidence and most of the other players seem to be constantly looking over their shoulders too. They are afraid, uncertain and wary. But what you really want them to be, is confident about their place in the side and in their skills.
During the first Test, former India skipper Sourav Ganguly constantly made the point on air.
“The great teams have at least 5-6 players who will play across formats. Kohli needs to give these guys a run and not constantly chop and change. It helps no one.”
Now, Ganguly made these comments early in the Test… before India lost. But they remain a valid critique of the manner in which Kohli, the captain, operates. Cricket, like any other sport, is all about rhythm. If you have a good rhythm, everything seems to slot right into place. On the other hand if your rhythm is erratic, you’ll doubt yourself more and your strokes will have a hit-and-miss feel about them.
If the conditions are favourable, the player will still get by. But in unfavourable conditions (Edgbaston for instance); in tough conditions… the lack of confidence can make an already difficult situation worse. Kohli’s horses for courses policy shows that he has extreme confidence in his own cricketing acumen but he also has very specific demands from players.
Kohli’s own personal record is unblemished. But he needs to remember that MS Dhoni had gone against popular opinion to retain him in the side and give him a go in the Perth Test in 2012 despite poor performances in Melbourne (11 and 0) and Sydney (23 and 9). Kohli responded to that confidence with scores of 44 and 74 in Perth and then 116 and 22 at Adelaide. India lost the series… no, they were crushed but they found Kohli.
Now, he needs to do what Dhoni once did for him. There’s been a lot of talk from Kohli about… well, everything. But giving his players another go would go much further than his words ever will.
As a captain, he needs to find a way to win and that also means finding ways and means of inspiring his team. At the moment, Kohli has no opposition in this team. There is no other player who can challenge his status, so he can’t really expect anyone to go out of their way and point out his flaws.
Kohli is King alright. But he needs his lieutenants to support him in times of need. But first, he needs to find them and tell them that he trusts them. Picking them for the second Test at Lord’s would perhaps be the start of that conversation.
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