- India lost the third Test in Southampton by 60 runs to concedea series defeat
- By winning three Tests so far, England have taken an unassailable 3-1 lead in the five-match series
- India captain Virat Kohli has admitted that the team needs to learn the art of crossing the line
SOUTHAMPTON: As bits and pieces of their dreams lay scattered around the worn-out pitch at the Ageas Bowl here on Sunday night, it was time for the Indian team to introspect.
What went wrong?” The question kept coming up again and again and captain Virat Kohli — the stand-out performer for India in this series — kept insisting that the team had fought well. “It’s up to the people whether they want to acknowledge that we fought really hard,” Kohli said, probably feeling that the criticism facing the team him was a bigger challenge right now than the fight posed by rivals on the field.
But even as the public-relations machinery of this Indian side tries to portray this bunch of cricketers as the “best touring side in the world”, the truth of the matter is that India have lost another Test series away from home — that too against an England side that barely managed to draw a Test series here against Pakistan, who are no longer part of the high and mighty of world cricket.
There’s no doubt that Kohli was magical with the bat and will hopefully continue to be so for a time to come, but it has to be said there were serious strategic errors along the course of this series that have hurt India badly. And it would be wrong to pin down the errors on the captain himself, even though over the years he has given the impression that he prefers taking the hard decisions himself.
Still, there is a coach in this team — Ravi Shastri — who is known to be one of the shrewdest cricketing minds. So, the question that begs to be asked is — how did the think-tank read the pitch wrong? How did they mess up the team composition so badly in three Test matches?
While in the first Test in Birmingham, India, bowling first, employed a spinner as early as the seventh over, they didn’t have a backup spinner and that proved costly as the game went on. “This was the pitch where they should have played Kuldeep Yadav,” former India offie Harbhajan Singh said as R Ashwin tried his heart out.
Cheteshwar Pujara, too, was dropped because he had apparently “some technical issues” which were sorted out during the course of the series. He ended up getting a superb 132 at Ageas Bowl. “Birmingham is too far away to discuss whether it was wrong to drop him there,” said assistant coach Sanjay Bangar, evading the query, but the results along the course of the series suggested that Pujara was missed in that game.
In the second Test, with a lot of rain and the ball seaming around, India strangely went in with two spinners in Ashwin and Kuldeep. It’s true that the batting failed miserably in both innings, but there was a point when India could have made inroads with the extra pacer. And after the third Test in Nottingham which Kuldeep didn’t play, he was sent back to turn out for India ‘A’.
It was a decision that shocked spin legend Shane Warne ahead of the Test at Southampton. “India should play two spinners on this pitch,” Warne, who was here before the Test, said. The world knows him to be a fantastic cricket brain and he had played two decades for Hampshire and knows what the conditions in Southampton had to offer. India, however, had their own ideas.
Moreover, Ashwin, who was recuperating from a groin injury, was played ahead of Ravindra Jadeja and towards the latter part of the second innings, when the offie had to bowl 37.1 overs, he looked tired and was unable to give his best. Even if Ashwin was playing, there was the option of playing Jadeja ahead of Hardik Pandya, who did precious little in the Test match. “With so much rough around, Jadeja would have been great on this pitch. Jadeja would have been very effective,” Harbhajan said as England spinner Moeen Ali ran through India in both innings.
There was obviously the issue of Pandya taking six wickets in the Nottingham Test, but that’s where the coach and other members of the team management come into play.
The coach-manager has to take the difficult call in sport across disciplines, but then, as we know, in Indian cricket, the results don’t always match up to the hype!