Virat Kohli’s tally of 200 runs — including his maiden Test century in England — at Edgbaston was testimony to his rise as the number one batsman in the world. Despite his heroics, the team couldn’t cross the final hurdle as they slumped to a heartbreaking 30-run loss in the opening Test of the five-match series.
We could write paeans on the greatness of Virat Kohli the batsman (yes, he is the best batsman of his generation), but as former Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly correctly pointed out, there’s still room for improvement when it comes to Virat Kohli, the captain.
First of all, it was the 35th game that Kohli hasn’t played the same starting XI in consecutive matches. The biggest casualty of this approach last week was Cheteshwar Pujara, one of Team India’s mainstays in the longest format of the game.
Given Pujara’s underwhelming county cricket form earlier this year — coupled with KL Rahul’s impressive recent performances across formats — it’s debatable whether he would have performed better than his replacement. But, isn’t that how you exactly boost the confidence of your best players?
“One criticism for @Virat.Kohli is that he should give a consistent run to his batters & more time before dropping them,” Ganguly said in a long Instagram review of the match.
“He will have to sit with them & tell them that if he can do it so can they. He should give them time & tell them to go out & play without any fear. It is true that after continuous chopping & changing of the playing XI, players can get afraid that after all these years they’ve failed to garner the faith of the team management,” he added.
If you’ve to win a Test then everyone has to score runs. The other batsmen have to score 100’s as well. #ViratKohli played very well otherwise India would have been out of the match on the 2nd day itself. This was the first Test in a 5 match series & I think this team has the capability to come back & play well. #AjinkyaRahane & #MuraliVijay will have to show some determination since they have scored runs in these conditions before. I don’t think the captain is responsible for the loss. If you’re the captain then you’ll be criticised for a loss the same way as you’re congratulated for a win. One criticism for @Virat.Kohli is that he should give a consistent run to his batters & more time before dropping them. The failure against swing in English conditions can’t be used as an excuse any more as everyone knows that its what you get when you come to England. You can’t be excused all the time & we have lost before in 2011 & 2014. You’ve to bat well. It’s a very well known fact that the ball will swing in England the same way as Australia is known for its pacy wickets. So if previously you’ve scored runs there is no reason you can’t now. The captain should give confidence to his players. It’s his team & only he can change their mindset. He will have to sit with them & tell them that if he can do it so can they. He should give them time & tell them to go out & play without any fear. It is true that after continuous chopping & changing of the playing XI, players can get afraid that after all these years they’ve failed to garner the faith of the team management.” The good thing about the great teams of the past – whether it be #Australia, #SouthAfrica or our very own team which won the Test series here in 2007 – was that the boys used to play both formats of the game – #SachinTendulkar, #RahulDravid, #VirenderSehwag, including myself. So even if you played badly in 1 or 2 matches you got a lot of time to get back into form at the international level. Playing & scoring 150 in first-class cricket can’t compensate for international cricket. In this team no batsman except Virat plays all the formats. – SG
A post shared by Sourav Ganguly (@sganguly99) on
Although the current bunch of players has not played too much overseas cricket, the current think-tank’s fetish for puzzling selection calls is still well-documented. It was brushed under the carpet during the team’s successful run at home over the past couple of seasons, but the series loss in South Africa earlier in 2018 highlighted brought it to the fore.
Bhuveshwar Kumar’s exclusion from the Centurion Test and opting for Rohit Sharma over one of the team’s best overseas performers, Ajinkya Rahane were the sort of fine margins that decided the series. Eventually South Africa won 2-1.
With that said, consistency in selection is not the only recipe for success. Graeme Smith of South Africa did not play the same XI for 53 Test matches. Yet, he went on to become the most successful skipper of all time, also scoring a record number of hundreds in winning causes as the team’s leader, in the process.
However, Smith’s teams did retain a core group of individuals that formed the nucleus of a successful side. The likes of Pujara, Rahane, M Vijay, Ishant Sharma and Ravichandran Ashwin have been those high-performing particles in India’s whites, especially overseas.
Thankfully for Kohli, the long duration of the ongoing series means there is still margin for error. The legendary confines of Lord’s will play host for the next Test. If India replace Rahul with Pujara, they would become the first visiting team to play the same top five in back-to-back Tests here.
It was a fruitful trip last time and Kohli could do with some nostalgia. It could be chapter 36 in ‘tinkering with the team’ for Team India’s charismatic captain, but this time we’re gunning for it. We won’t be surprised if he finally chooses to retain the same XI though.