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Opinion: Indian cricket team’s overseas ambition in tatters after England series loss

In seven Tests played this year – omitting the one against Afghanistan for obvious reasons – India have won 22 out of 42 sessions. Theoretically, that should have led to a 4-3 match ratio in India’s favour instead of 2-5 as it stands now.

cricket Updated: Sep 06, 2018 09:05 IST
Indian cricket team,India vs England,Virat Kohli
India's Virat Kohli looks up as he walks off the pitch after being given out caught off the bowling of England's Sam Curran.(AP)

‘Winning solves all problems’ goes an old sports axiom. The opposite of this is not just that defeat compounds old problems, but new ones emerge to complicate matters further.

One sensed Virat Kohli was already brooding over the difficulties that lie ahead in the post-match interview after the fourth Test. For the first time since he took over as captain – indeed, perhaps since his days as an under-19 player – he looked somewhat fazed.

The characteristic elan was missing, and his usually smouldering eyes seemed dulled with disappointment. And understandably so. Five weeks back, India – ranked no.1 in Tests -- looked full of beans and in good form to beat England at home.

The ranking won’t change even if the Oval Test is lost, but the status of the team has come down a few notches even if they win. This was not quite how the script was to unfold.

HOLLOW PROMISE

Two previous tours of England had been horrendous in terms of results, but India had held out great promise of winning the Test series this time, given the rich talent and experience available.

READ: Ravi Shastri questions performance of past greats while defending poor show in England

Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri had also articulated, with great vehemence and an air of melodrama, about how the team was primed up on intent to not just win this series, but also become the best Indian team to have played overseas. That ambition is now precariously placed.

It would be easy to hold Kohli and Shastri hostage to their bravado, misplaced as it appears now. But that is limited to scoring brownie points and would obscure serious analyses of what’s gone wrong and why.

Fact is this Indian has been the most competitive and best performing outside of the sub-continent in the last seven-eight years. This year itself, India came close to beating South Africa, and while the scoreline stands 1-3 in the current series, it could so easily have been the other way around.

Indeed, in seven Tests played this year – omitting the one against Afghanistan for obvious reasons – India have won 22 out of 42 sessions. Theoretically, that should have led to a 4-3 match ratio in India’s favour instead of 2-5 as it stands now.

NEEDS INTROSPECTION

However, sport – especially Test cricket – is not slave to such linear logic. A batsman/bowler can turn a game around in one session, irrespective of what’s happened otherwise. Yet winning sessions aplenty without winning matches consistently is a malaise that requires study.

While it’s true that faulty selection of playing XI, bad luck with the toss does (and has) play a part, the key issue -- on evidence of performances this year -- is failure to capitalise on winning situations, individually and collectively.

Why are players losing their nerve at crunch moments ?

In a relatively small run chase at Edgbaston, Dhawan, Vijay, Rahane and Karthik faltered badly. At Southampton, Ashwin just couldn’t get the line and hit the spot that earned Moeen Ali a bagful of wickets.

Is this lack of calibre or a kink? Clearly players who lack skills or are pusillanimous need to be replaced. Yet, India wouldn’t get into winning positions so frequently if the talent was poor. The second attribute is the more likely, and needs to be addressed urgently.

READ:  Southampton debacle completes a decade of heartbreak against spin for India

For some players, crisis and daunting circumstances bring out the best in them. Whenever the hardship quotient has increased, Kohli’s own batting has gone up several notches. This is more because of his burning desire to excel, and ultra competitive mindset.

FEAR FACTOR

Not everybody may be in the same league technically or mentally and may even need help. For instance, in 1975-76 against Australia, Viv Richards would get out regularly in the 20s and 30s. He turned to sports psychologist Rudy Webster for help.

Richards was to emerge from the debris of a 1-5 defeat as the world’s premier batsman, and the West Indies went on to become arguably the greatest team of all time. Moral of the story is that the best sportspersons can be afraid: not just of failure, but also success.

Winning in sport is a habit that has to be cultivated – assuming requisite talent -- otherwise losing becomes the default habit. The onus on overcoming this kink which is preventing India from capitalising on winning positions is the serious challenge confronting Kohli, (as also Shastri) as they lick their wounds and mull at what have been.

NOTE: The writer is a senior cricket analyst and views are personal.

First Published: Sep 06, 2018 09:05 IST