The Indian cricket team’s fresh round of shuffling, this time going against the very grain of what it had propagated in the previous Test, would leave anyone confused.
The five-bowler theory, which the team management stuck to with almost obdurate zeal, has all of a sudden been abandoned. What should have been a normal move – getting back a fit Murali Vijay in the playing XI – is now riddled with bafflement. Why not in the previous Test and why now? Then there is the perennial question of Cheteshwar Pujara. He is back in favour and is probably the reason for Ravindra Jadeja being discarded after just a one-Test recall.
From the outside, these moves appear to be a needless throw of the dice that reflect confused minds. Or, they could be experiments which are being done, keeping long-term interests of the team in mind.
Since Anil Kumble, the mastermind behind many of India’s memorable victories, is now the strategist and guiding force behind these decisions, it should be safe to assume there must be a method to this madness.
To simply believe that the media criticism of some of the selections in the third Test, especially leaving out Vijay and showing the door to Pujara, could have forced the coach-captain combine to make these changes seems implausible. Not only Kumble, Virat Kohli himself is a strong-willed personality, who seems to be immune to any kind of pressure, be it while batting, leading the side or getting influenced by media barbs.
No fixed slots
This side believes in the horses-for-courses theory and Kohli went to the extent of saying that every player, including himself, should be prepared to barter their playing slots for the good of the side. Kohli, to prove his point, had moved up the batting order, sacrificing his No 4 place so that Rohit Sharma could be accommodated in the XI.
Something has, for reasons not known to us, happened in between, that has forced him to reverse his earlier decisions. Maybe, answers would be available after the Test, just like Kohli elaborated in the post-match press conference after the third Test.
Regardless of what the explanations would be and whether we get to know the rationale behind this rethinking, one thing is certain. This team has a positive bent of mind, abounds in self-belief and wants to dominate world cricket on its terms and not by default.
Kohli’s reaction on India becoming the No 1 Test team showed the mindset. He did not gloat over how his team was playing. He was aware that the ranking has been bestowed because Australia had been white-washed by Sri Lanka. It is not through merit and long-term domination that India have become the No 1 team in the world. One bad result, even in the ongoing Test, could change the rankings.
Therefore, it was heartening to see Kohli acknowledge this and almost dismiss becoming the top team as trivia, unless they achieve the feat on their own. It is this desire for all-round excellence that could well see India becoming a truly dominant team in the world. Dominant in all conditions, and not just at home or when the opposition is as meek as this West Indian team.