Team India: Hindsight is a gift, can you stop wasting my time?

Amidst the criticism, the blame game and the furore what is it that actually needs to be done.

Virat Kohli and his team Team India
India captain Virat Kohli and his team leave the field. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

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Criticism may not be agreeable but it is necessary. It fuels the same function as pain in the human body. It calls for attention to unhealthy state of things.

~Winston Churchill

Churchill might not be just the right person to lead us into a debate after an India-England clash but it fits the current scenario Virat Kohli and his team find themselves in. A LOT was expected of them, ‘the best chance to beat England in a Test series at home’ is one statement almost every expert and former cricketer used leading into the series. After two Test matches the same team is down on the knees and there is enormous criticism in the circles and from the fans asking a wide range of questions, no one seems to have the answers for.

This isn’t the first time that Team India is 2-0 down in a Test series in England they’ve in the past lost by an innings margin. Then why so much furore? Because this is the first time it has happened under the herculean leader Virat Kohli. The torchbearer of modern-day Indian cricket, the poster boy, the world’s best batsman, the man with all the self-belief, who lives to fight and to win. He is supposed to rewrite history. How can he suffer the same fate?

He took it on the chin and wants to move on, focus on the Trent Bridge match, to try and make a comeback in the series. Not the fans. They want change.

The K factor

There was only one difference from the first Test in Birmingham (a narrow defeat) and London (a disgraceful submission) VIRAT KOHLI. The skipper scored 149 in the first innings at Edgbaston, pulled together partnerships with the lower order and that’s how the team almost cleared the deficit. In the second innings, if it wasn’t for his 51, they would’ve been bowled out in the first session on the fourth morning. He scored 200 runs in the match and so did the rest of the team.

In recent Tests, Team India has scored runs when Kohli has and hasn’t when he hasn’t. While the skipper is the showstopper everyone else in the line-up also needs to pull their weight.

What needs to change first is the mindset – like Kohli said it is all in the head till you go out there in the middle – if you are thinking about the one that ball has your name on it, you are looking forward to only that and even ordinary deliveries start to appear extraordinary and dismissals make you look like a fool.

Don’t play the bowler, play the ball, don’t play the situation, play your game

What’s wrong? – Batting

What’s missing? – Application

We hear too often that the bowlers need to get you 20 wickets to win overseas. The Indian bowlers did that on all occasions in South Africa and even in the first Test in Birmingham, but then they won just one match against the Proteas in Johannesburg. Because that’s the only game other batsmen displayed some character.

In overseas Test matches there is a wide variety of challenges and even if one is deficient on the technical front, the gap can be filled with temperament. Murali Vijay was the epitome of that on the previous tour. Flirting with the balls in the zone of uncertainty triggered his downfall, he just didn’t play at them anymore. Vijay has been looking to repeat the same this time around. But if you go in with a premeditated mindset against someone like James Anderson and Stuart Broad you’re giving them your wicket on a silver platter.

With 977 Test wickets between them, Anderson and Broad have set Vijay up with the ones that go away and then brought one back in – and in a matter of balls – made him look insignificant. KL Rahul has fallen to the same. He relies on the front foot defence but just doesn’t read the ball that swings or seams back in and the ones that don’t follow the trajectory.

Ajinkya Rahane, the vice-captain of the team, had the tag of being their most reliable middle-order batsman overseas. He is still lured by the delivery inviting a drive and just edges it to the slip cordon.

Scalping these wickets has been all too easy for England, the pacers haven’t bowled the fourth spell or the fifth spell, the Plan A has yielded the wickets. If only the famed batting defeats their initial strategy will they be forced to think beyond and that’s when the opportunity of outplaying them in the head cracks open.

Look inwards – find your own answers

Team India needs to make a comeback in the series but ‘what’s the route for a comeback?’ Most in India think it can only be achieved with change. Change your attitude, change the team, change the openers, change the middle order, change the coach and so on.

I want to establish one point right away that if XI players are representing the national team, they are the best eleven players in the ranks.

When Murali Vijay and KL Rahul say even Shikhar Dhawan have failed to deliver a Prithvi Shaw who seems have a huge public vote will not be able to turn things around overnight.

Let me also address the proposed solutions – Prithvi Shaw as an opener, also Mayank Agarwal and Rohit Sharma for the middle order.

While Shaw is way too young in his career, at 18 all he has played is 14 first-class matches. Ideally, you don’t want to risk a player unless there is enormous a dearth of options in the country. He has played for India A against the England Lions but there is no Jimmy Anderson there planning, planting and plotting his dismissal even before he realizes what’s happening. If he fails and there is a certain possibility of that it nullifies everything he’s done thus far. Shaw will need at least two or three seasons to undo the damage.

The same applies for Agarwal and Sharma might just make it to the team for the last two matches but look back at why he isn’t there in the first place.

The team has already proved how this ‘band-aid’ sort of remedy cannot heal all wounds

When Kohli managed to tackle the swing and scored runs in the first Test batting out of the crease everyone else has tried to do just that. Unsurprisingly it has worked for none. As Kohli found what helps him counter swing, you need to find your own solutions, that fit your game and style of play, don’t just accept the template, device your own game plan.

One change that is easy to foresee is behind the wickets. Dinesh Karthik will definitely find it difficult to hold onto his place in the XI. In all likelihood, Rishabh Pant should make his debut at Trent Bridge.

Hindsight is a gift, stop wasting my time

What the team management – Kohli and Shastri need is conviction – they have to trust in the ability of the players for long enough. Work with them to get the execution right, set in place a process.

Changing the XI every game is a clear indication that there is no balance in the side. Think of the hit Pujara’s self-image would have taken when he was dropped for the opening Test of the series and then called back again for the second. How do you expect the players to then deliver in adverse conditions?

Use the hindsight. Hannah Gadsby in her smash-hit show Nanette popularly said, “Hindsight is a gift, stop wasting my time.”

Can the Indian team management please take lessons from hindsight and not repeat the same mistakes?

Now, if I say chopping and changing isn’t a solution, what is?

Against a very common opinion, we hear every time, India cannot and should not change the pitches in the country. Don’t put your identity at stake just to win Test matches in England once every few years. But BCCI must send the players to labour in County cricket. Allow the domestic players, the internationals when not on national duty, the U19s, the A team players.

Let them get a taste of the conditions every season. They will be shown the mirror first up, the humiliation will then force them to up their game, that’s how they will not be in alien land every time there’s an England tour. The batsmen and the bowlers will be pushed to the wall and humans only grow when there’s no other way around it.

This is what one, two or even three practice matches, one, two or three changes in the combination cannot do for you. This is setting things up, initiating a process and maybe on the next tour, we will win a couple of Tests.

Only fair to close with-

“Tell me and I’ll forget

Show me and I may remember

Involve me and I learn.”

                                                                                ~Benjamin Franklin

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