By John Cheeran
For a fact, it is astounding that after two Tests, India is not trailing but on level terms with Australia in Australia. Doesn’t that feel good? India may have lost Perth Test by a big margin, 143 runs, but not many can blame them for lack of trying.
But what then contributed to the team’s downfall from the high of Adelaide? Adelaide was a much closer contest than how things turned out to be in Perth.
In Perth, captain Virat Kohli lost the toss and lost the momentum. The team management also made a tactical mistake in not picking a specialist spinner when injury ruled Ravichandran Ashwin out of the match. Kohli and Ravi Shastri believed in the strength of Indian pacers to skittle Australia out on a pitch that turned out to offering awkward bounce. Yes, the pacers, except Umesh Yadav, did dominate the bowling, but letting your rivals score 330 runs in the first innings without any of the batsman dominating the proceedings does not reflect their true strength. The Indian pacers should set higher standards and as much as they succeeded in hurting and unsettling the Aussie batsmen, they should have also sent them back to the pavilion a little earlier.
The accusation against the Indian bowling, here fast bowlers, is that they are unable to cut the tail off. But for Mohammad Shami’s inspired burst in the Australian second innings, India’s target of 287 would have ballooned further. There comes in the missing spinner factor. Had Ravi Jadeja played, he could have bolstered the Indian batting which has now four No.11s (pace battery) and lent some variety to the bowling attack. But as Kohli admitted in the post-match press conference it was a tricky decision to make. May be that might have cost India the Test.
But for all that India’s problems begin in the beginning. It is the perennial one, the unsettled opening pair. Both K L Rahul and M Vijay would have been thrown out of the Test squad in another time. Despite a virulent social media, despite Team India’s continued Test losses overseas, it is amazing that how these have held their positions. One could say that circumstances played their part as in the case of the ankle injury to young opener Prithvi Shaw who has showed much promise in the opportunities given to him against the West Indies at home. Now, Shaw is not coming back into the team for the Boxing Day Test at the MCG, but going home.
To go into an Australian Test with two openers who are playing to retain their places in the squad upends the whole batting equilibrium of the side. Individual heroics such as that of Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli work some times but the batsmen can never breathe easy that way. In scoring as well as in occupying the crease Rahul and Vijay have failed and to trot the odd 40 and a carefree 100 in a match of consequence would have invited national opprobrium in the past. It does not even lead to a murmur now on Twitter.
Now Mayank Agarwal gets a call-up since he is an opener. Karun Nair must be seething in anger. May be India should pick its best batsmen available and tell them to score runs?
To back your players is a captain’s duty but he should never lose sight of the overall team objective, which is to win matches. Kohli the captain can soak in the pressure thanks to his astounding personal form as a batsman. But even the greatest of warriors will have to bow to adapt to circumstances and redraw their battle plans.