By Yajurvindra Singh
The loss against New Zealand in the final of the World Test Championship has put the Indian cricket side in a very vulnerable position. They have now opened the doors for criticism and given their critics the opportunity to lambast them for their failure to win.
Indian cricket experts and followers thrive on their knowledge and understanding of the game of cricket, a sport that is uncertain and difficult to visualise.
New Zealand played better cricket and hence deserved to win. They seemed more at home in the difficult English conditions and looked far better prepared to encounter them.
The Indian Test side has been at the top of the charts for the last several years and, unfortunately, they faltered at the final hurdle. This definitely does not, in any way, take away the credit of their being a successful outfit.
The vultures, as one can refer to them, are out to feast on the crestfallen Indian side, criticising every aspect from captaincy, batting, bowling to the team selection. These were the same individuals praising the attitude, grit, skill, and ability of each of the players who were part of the losing final.
The Indian players are on a well-earned vacation in England and one is happy for them as they would have not had a pleasant stay back home. In England, they will be able to roam the streets freely without being given a hearing at each corner. A bit of culture, art and shopping would be just the tonic for them to prepare for a gruelling five-Test match series against England, the IPL, and the T20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates to follow.
The commercial success that the Indian cricket teams bring to the BCCI coffers and to the countries they play against make scheduling their cricket itinerary a nightmare. This is where the BCCI failed in the preparation of the Indian cricket team for the World Test Championship. The one match final needed the Indian players to be ready in all respects. One can understand their captain Virat Kohli’s statement that if any of his players feel the lack of preparation is an issue then they should not board the flight. He naturally said it to boost his team’s confidence but for him to say it showed that it had crossed his mind. A six-day practice session before a final, having not played for at least a month earlier, is like cramming for an examination just the night before. A cricketer does feel that the mind and body will recalibrate to situations as they had experienced earlier. However, at most times this self-belief and confidence sound good only on paper.
The tentative approach of the Indian batsmen could be seen when some of them changed their stance and even where they stood to face the deliveries. These major changes needed to be put into play and mastered well before they played the match. This, in the earlier days, was done by playing matches against counties and state sides. The trend of not playing these matches has been India’s nemesis as their past performances have shown how the team suffers dismal results playing the first Test match of a series.
This happened to them when the Indian side returned victorious from Australia to play against England at home. In Southampton, the venue of the WTC final match, the weather was the spoilsport for India. The few days that they had to practice were in hot and sunny weather conditions and far from the cloudy, rainy, and heavy conditions that they faced. The technical changes without adequate practice, one felt, were a cause of concern not only for the Indian batters but also for the bowlers. The latter had an additional issue and that was to bowl with a Dukes ball and master the line and length with it.
It is, therefore, unfair to sit and criticise Shubman Gill’s technique, Cheteshwar Pujara’s attitude, or Ajinkya Rahane’s dismissal. Kane Williamson showed one as to how in difficult conditions being defensive is still a way to showcase offense. Pujara and the great Rahul Dravid have also done this very successfully in the past. One is therefore perplexed as to how some of the true followers of the game are gunning for the removal of Rahane and Pujara from the side to face England.
Similarly, guns are also aimed at young Gill, who is one of the brightest young Indian players, who needs to be nurtured rather than put down by an unsympathetic bullet. The young Prithvi Shaw became a victim of a similar movement and one is pleased that the youngster has come back with a bang to prove his critics wrong.
The inclusion of the two Indian spin Ravis in the final eleven is another bone of contention for many. Ravindra Jadeja is at present the number one all-rounder on the ICC rankings and to leave the best on the bench would be a decision that could look quite ridiculous. Similarly, with nearly 70 wickets under his belt in the WTC matches, Ravichandran Ashwin was not one who could be left out.
The Indian pacers are also under threat for their showing in the final. Talks of replacing Jaspreet Bumrah and Ishant Sharma for the first Test match against England is also gaining momentum. Both of them are top line performers and Bumrah is a bowler every team in the world would give their left arm for. Yes, one did feel Bhuvneshwar Kumar could have been a useful addition in English conditions but it was quite absurd for experts to mention his absence especially as he was not a part of the Indian squad.
One could have accepted their criticism if they had mentioned Shardul Thakur, who is also a good swing bowler and has improved his batting prowess a fair bit. He showed his all-round ability during India’s victory in the Test match against Australia in Brisbane.
The cricket vultures maybe out to peck at the depleted Indian side. However, a series win against England in England would be just the right result to keep their frustrated critics quiet.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal)