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Virat Kohli was disruptive, Ravi Shastri passive in South Africa

Virat Kohli fumed at his choice of playing XI in the Cape Town and Centurion Test being questioned by the media but the management didn’t ensure it gave the Indian cricket team the best opportunity to win a series in South Africa.

cricket Updated: Jan 21, 2018 14:12 IST
N Ananthanarayanan
N Ananthanarayanan
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Virat Kohli,Indian cricket team,India vs South Africa
Virat Kohli the batsman has continued to be sublime, but as captain, some of the decisions he has taken has not benefited the team in the current South Africa series. (Reuters)

In the aftermath of the Centurion Test defeat, Virat Kohli fumed at his choice of playing eleven at Cape Town and Centurion Park being questioned by the media. The India skipper argued those picked were capable of delivering. In other words, anyone picked must deliver.

He blamed players who flunked the test – Kohli was an exception among the batsmen – but the truth was the management also didn’t ensure it gave the team the best opportunity to win a series in South Africa for the first time.

Two factors had given India hope this time. A potent pace attack and the ability of the top three batsmen to see off the new ball and lay the platform for No 4 (Kohli) and No 5 (Ajinkya Rahane, until the team management dumped the vice-captain without any regard for his great overseas record and technique) to take over.

Kohli’s disruptive selections – coach Ravi Shastri seems to be little more than a silent spectator – was preceded by the shocking decision not to play a warm-up game.

KL Rahul should have opened with M Vijay for his superior skill and temperament. Shikhar Dhawan, like Rohit Sharma, is an attractive stroke-player but is a clear third when it comes to facing a classy pace attack on a tough pitch. Shikhar and Rohit should have been Plan B.

And if Rahane’s lack of runs against Sri Lanka was due to some other reason that only the dressing room is privy to, perhaps he should have been left at home.

And there is no word on Umesh Yadav – so effective with new and old ball through 2016-17 and into the Test series in Sri Lanka last July-August. Is he out of form, injured, or seen as not good enough? Otherwise, it can be argued what Jasprit Bumrah did, Umesh could have done better.

Cheteshwar Pujara’s calmness has benefitted the team countless times, even at home in tough situations. But in 2016, Virat Kohli said he wasn’t impressed with the poor strike rate of the No 3 batsman. Then coach Anil Kumble stepped in, dismissing talk of strike rate in Tests, boosting Pujara’s confidence.

Ravi Shastri and Pujara made a happy picture with a leopard’s statue on Friday. One assumes the coach had plenty to tell the batsman. But Pujara’s dismissals in both Tests pointed to a lack of focus than technique. The skipper’s talk of ‘intent’ could only have caught the batsman in two minds.

Pujara was a picture of concentration on the second morning at Newlands. He helped score only 48 runs in the session, but only one wicket was lost, and the South African pacers were being frustrated. But Pujara played a shocking poke first ball after lunch. And not the best athlete in the team after surgeries in both knees, he takes two suicidal runs in both innings in Centurion.

Virat Kohli the batsman has continued to be sublime, but the captain should realise continuity is as vital as intent to keep the flock calm and clear-headed.

In the Galle Test of 2015, in Kohli’s first full series as skipper, Kohli and Shastri advocated “aggression”. But a tame loss forced them to tone down and India rallied to win the series. A one-size-fits-all approach can suck confidence out of the side.

Cricket historian Ramchandra Guha has pointed out in his column in the espncricinfo website that what works for Kohli need not work for the rest, and his decisions smack of arrogance.

A thin line divides aggression and recklessness. Kohli was dismissive when asked about dropping Bhuvneshwar Kumar at Centurion after helping almost win in Cape Town.

Imagine if the national selectors take a leaf out of Kohli’s disruptive playbook by appoint a new skipper every series?

First Published: Jan 21, 2018 08:31 IST