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Why our cricket team failed in England

September 11, 2018 09:04 IST

The reasons for India's poor show in England lie between a very demanding captain, a very smug coach and inadequate coaching staff, says Sudhir Bisht.

IMAGE: India Coach Ravi Shastri with Captain Virat Kohli. 'Shastri should worry about Kohli's stranglehold over Team India,' says Sudhir Bisht. Photograph: BCCI

India has lost the ongoing series 1-3 against England, and this time the batsmen are being blamed for the debacle by most people.

Except that the Indian captain isn't calling it a debacle. He has adopted Rahul Gandhi's line of approach and is claiming a kind of moral victory at this loss.

Look at what Virat Kohli said when asked about his reaction to the series loss. 'We never gave up and made England earn the victory.'

At another time Kohli almost claimed some kind of satisfaction for having 'pushed the home side to earn victories' and 'for not throwing in the towel'.

Another not so great comment by the Indian captain was, 'As a captain I don't see many areas we need to think of negatives, because we tried our best.'

In other words, what Kohli is saying that if one tries his best but fails, he doesn't have to think of the negatives that may have led to the failures.

So should he continue trying doing his best while treading the beaten path?

Will any progressive person approve of this kind of logic?

 

The Indian tour of England is a familiar story for Indian cricket that lost to South Africa 1-2 earlier this year. The players didn't perform as a team. If the bowling unit did well, the batting let them down.

Why is it that Team India fails to do well in the longer format of the game outside the subcontinent?

In the past, the Indian team suffered from a lack of great fast bowlers who could take 20 wickets in a match. There was Kapil Dev who was the lone ranger when it came to being an extraordinarily talented medium-fast bowler.

Kapil Dev enthralled Indian fans between 1978 and 1994 and he was followed by the great Javagal Srinath who played for India between 1991 and 2002. Srinath was followed by Zaheer Khan who served the country between 2000 and 2014.

The three great fast bowlers shouldered the burden of India's pace attack virtually alone, without much support from the other end.

If India won a few matches outside Asia, it was thanks to supremely gifted batsmen or that the spinning maestros of India sometimes rose to the occasion and gave India a one-off series victory abroad.

It is well known that all teams that have done well outside the Indian subcontinent always have two high strike-rate fast bowlers and at least one other bowler who looks enthusiastic enough to run down at least two batsmen with his occasional brilliance.

In the Test squad that is touring England, the Indian team has four bowlers who can be rated among the top 12 fast or medium-fast bowlers in the world.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah are bowling at their best whenever fit. Umesh Yadav too has been bowling at a rapid pace consistently and with a lot of heart.

In the spin department, in R Ashwin and R Jadeja, the Indian Test team has two world class spinners in its ranks.

Indian bowlers have performed admirably well in England on the tour but it is the celebrated Indian batting line-up that has let them down.

This famed roster of Indian batsmen failed to negotiate the ball in the seaming conditions in England. It appeared as if they had not trained well to face up to the likes of Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes and even the recently recalled spinner Moeen Ali. This raises the obvious question about India's preparedness for the England series.

It is common knowledge that most Indian batsmen nowadays are mostly in T20 cricket mode. The exceptions to this are Murali Vijay who has been dropped for lack of form and Cheteshwar Pujara who looked as if he needed several injections of morale-boosters and a bit of advisory on running between the wickets.

So with the two Test specialists out of form, out of luck and perhaps out of practice, the Indian batting collapsed in almost all the innings except one in England.

This means the Indian batsmen needed a quick refresher course before the start of the series, and whom did they turn to for that?

Sanjay Bangar, of course. The Indian batting coach was not much of a success for India in the South Africa Test series. Why can't the cash-rich BCCI engage the services of someone like Graham Gooch or David Gower for the short term?

Why is it that Virat Kohli, the captain, who is said to have played a silent but stellar role, even if indirectly, in ousting Anil Kumble as coach, doesn't demand the best coach for overseas tours on a consulting basis?

Why not engage Dilip Vengsarkar as a short-term coach for the English tour and pay him a thousand pounds a day as fees for his services? Everyone familiar with Indian cricket knows that Vengsarkar has few equals when it comes to a successful record on England tours.

In the case of the Indian bowlers, they too can do with some guidance from someone who has excelled in English conditions. They haven't been able to polish off the English tail. Maybe someone like Bob Willis would have been of help to the Indian bowlers in crushing the merrily-wagging English tail.

I am not asking for the removal of Bharat Arun, the bowling coach, but only asking for an additional coach who has had success in England.

The English side has a spin coach in Saqlain Mushtaq. Similarly the Indian side too can employ a spin coach who has done well in English conditions. Maybe a Graeme Swann or a Shane Warne would jump at the offer.

An argument can be made by Ravi Shastri's admirers that with him being the team's head coach, India doesn't need a spin bowling coach. But is Shastri really the coach of the Indian side?

I think we tend to ignore the fact that the buck seems to stop at Virat Kohli in this Indian cricket team.

Shastri is just the guy who is a bit taller and lot broader than Kohli and fills up the position of coach.

And whenever he is his own man, he falters badly.

Look at how he puts the blame (external link) on India's loss on Ashwin.

The most smug-looking coach in the world, after Jose Mourinho, in his own style puts the entire blame of India losing a match on Ashwin. 'It is very straightforward, very simple, very obvious, it is there for everyone to see that Moeen Ali hit those patches more than Ashwin.'

What happens to the morale of someone like Ashwin, one of the senior-most players in the team and one who has been mainly responsible for many, many Indian victories, if he is singled out by the coach for a bad day at work?

If Ravi Shastri had said those words about Navjot Singh Sidhu, the latter would have taken a plane back to India. It was there for everyone to see that Ashwin appeared injured and yet was trying to bowl at his best.

Does it speak well of India's coach to demoralise the old but doughty warrior of his fighting army?

And this brings me to the overall happiness index of the Indian team that is losing badly in England.

This team appears to be nervous while batting and tentative while fielding. The spark and spunk seem to be missing.

Every member risks a rebuke and a glare if he misses a catch.

There is the sword of the yo-yo endurance test before every series, and there is fear of losing the place after one bad performance.

This is something that Shastri must focus on. He has to make the old and young players of the team feel like a happy bunch of brothers, even if they are competing with one another.

Ravi Shastri should worry about Virat Kohli's stranglehold over Team India.

Note what Mike Brearley, one of the greatest captains who survived in the English side due to his leadership skills alone, had to say of Virat Kohli in an interview external link) to The Times of India.

'He (Kohli) is a very intelligent captain and has tremendous presence on the field, but he has so much charisma, articulacy and authority that there's a danger of him becoming authoritarian.'

When Brearley was asked to elaborate upon that he said, 'He (Kohli) has got to have the capacity to tell people what to do. But if you become too authoritarian, then you are not open to other points of view. Becoming too influential can also mean that people are scared of giving you the opinion and then you don't gather in.'

'You need to have 11 captains in the team, just that you have to be the in-charge.'

I am aware that it is easier to criticise than to play the game. As someone said, 'Spectators are the best players', and whosoever said it, said so in satire.

But sports gets all its glory due to the spectators and the spectators' point of view must be heard by those running the sport.

Sudhir Bisht, PhD, author and columnist, tweets at @Sudhir_bisht

Sudhir Bisht