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6 loopholes Kohli and India did not prepare for

Virat Kohli insisted Team India were prepared to take on South Africa and win the first Test. He was wrong. No one from the media dared to ask him how.

By Francis Adams

If you are a die-hard Indian cricket fan, you would have come across several analysis, criticism and blame-game by former India Test players, the media and fans as to why India lost the First Test at Newlands, Cape Town within four days on Monday, January, 8, 2018.
   
   Amidst all these opinions, the most interesting came from captain Virat Kohli in his post-match media conference. "We were very well prepared. I don't think we felt any lack of preparation," were Kohli's first sentences during the conference which is available on video on BCCI.tv. See here

   Either Kohli was in denial, trying to defend the top-order batting failure or was totally mistaken about what "being prepared" means.
 
    If the team had prepared then they would have covered these six loopholes that brought about the defeat.

1.  SA's plan to keep Kohli quite.

Virat Kohli walks off after being dismissed by Morne Morkel.
Pic courtesy: The New Indian Express
You would have seen experts including our legend Sunil Gavaskar discuss during commentary on how teams target the captain of the team and plan his cheap dismissal so that the entire team comes under pressure. Australians have been doing it regularly. India did it with some success against Steve Smith recently and exceptionally well with Sri Lankan Test captain Dinesh Chandimal.

    Did Kohli, coach Ravi Shastri and batting coach Sanjay Bangar prepare? No, they didn't.

You can figure out from what Player of the Match and wrecker-in-chief Vernon Philander had to say in an interview published in The Indian Express. "Virat is a quality player, and the key thing is to keep him quiet, and make sure that we set him up with the other one. I always knew I had the one coming back," said Philander, referring to the LBW dismissal of Kohli in the second innings.
 
   "It was probably two-and-a-half overs of away-swingers and then back at him (Kohli). It was definitely a plan to keep him quiet, and also to drag him across to make sure that when you do bowl the other one, he is on the other side of the off-stump."

   This is not all.

   In the first innings, Kohli played a delivery from Morne Morkel to be caught behind. He had a little earlier played Philander.

   South African captain Faf Du Plessis seemed to have prepared for Kohli's wicket as he quickly replaced Philander with Morkel. "They (India) should have known this fact that deliveries bowled by Morkel rise higher compared to Philander because of Morkel's 6'5" height," said Jonty Rhodes while analysing Kohli's dismissal in the studio, along with Sanjay Manjrekar and Harsha Bhogle.

   Only the hard-working Bhuvaneshwar Kumar seemed to have prepared and done his homework, maybe, by using video footage of South African batsmen's weakness, again maybe, from the quietness of his room.

   Bhuvi set Dean Elgar up beautifully in the first innings by bowling the first two deliveries outside leg and then bowling the third on the off and moving away, thus, becoming the only frontline bowler to take a wicket in the first over of a Test match after the legendary Kapil Dev did it in 1992.

2. What happened to "Well-left" star  Murali Vijay?

Leave alone Shikhar Dhawan's flamboyant manner of batting, be it Test, One-day or the T20, you as a cricket lover should be asking: "What preparation did Murali Vijay do that he changed his famous batting style of leaving deliveries outside the offstump and instead began playing them in Cape Town?"                                                                                                         
Murali Vijay: Pic courtesy - News18.com
                     
    Coming back from a long layoff due to injury, Tamilnadu's other star apart from Ravichandran Ashwin in the current Indian team, M Vijay is seen as a role model for aspiriing cricketers on how to be patient and leave deliveries outside the off stump on pitches abroad. He has proved this in Australia and England.

    In an article titled "The secret of Vijay's success" on ESPNCricinfo way back on December 31, 2014, former India player and now commentator Aakash Chopra wrote: "Vijay's head when the bowler releases the ball is in line with the top of the off stump. That gives him a fair judgement of which balls are to be left alone and which are to be played.

   "He has left alone about 34% (the highest percentage for any active international batsman today) of the balls he has faced in Test cricket since 2011. Most of these are deliveries bowled in the channel outside off. If you regularly allow the ball to go through to the wicketkeeper, bowlers will have to come closer to the stumps in search of the elusive outside edge, which works in your favour. Vijay is old-fashioned in the way he leaves a lot of balls alone and then punishes the full balls that are close to him."

    Manjrekar, analysing the top order's mistakes from the studio, made this observation on the loss of M Vijay's "well-left" approach.

3. Where were the singles?

Sunil Gavaskar, who is the only expert invited from India to do live commentary in South Africa, was a master at taking singles. So was "God of cricket" Sachin Tendulkar. Their class as prolific run scorers in Test matches were not only due to the exquisite boundaries they would hit, but also due to
the singles they would steal.

     This was mainly to unsettle the opposition's bowlers and field placements.

Sunil Gavaskar.
Pic courtesy: Wikipedia
Singles are handy and part of winning matches. Let's look at the first innings of the Capetown Test. You can understand M Vijay defending 16 deliveries and scoring a single run in 17 before getting out. His job was to stay at the wicket to the point of carrying his bat.

     But how can you explain Rohit Sharma's 7 singles from 58 deliveries (his innings: 11 runs, 59 balls, 4 x 1)? Or Cheteshwar Pujara's 6 singles from 81 deliveries (his innings: 26 runs, 92 balls, 4 x 5)? Even if they were playing anchoring roles, did that mean that batsmen of their calibre could ignore singles or found them impossible to take ?

     As comparison, take Kagiso Rabada, a tailender. He took 20 singles from 65 deliveries batting in SA's first knock (his innings: 26 runs, 66 balls, 6 x 1).

Had these two frontline Indian batsmen given singles all the importance they deserve in a Test match, the result would have been in India's favour.


A joke or meme doing the rounds, as normally happens in such situations, is that: All of these top-order batsmen (Vijay, Dhawan, Pujara, Kohli, Rohit) are not single anymore.

4. Where did the anchor-hitter combination vanish?

You may ask: "If Du Plessis and AB de Villiers could do it, why not India?"

You are correct in your question. India, on paper or on the field, have the most potent combination of anchor and strokeplayers.

If M Vijay can play the anchor, Dhawan can upset any world-class attack with his swashbuckling
The Virat-Pujara combination. Pic courtesy: Firstpost
batting. Then comes the patient Pujara, also called ChePu by fans. Experts, including former players worldwide know Pujara can bat long hours and has done so for 11 hours in one of his previous innings.

Following him is another strokemaker, Kohli, among the most dangerous top-order batsmen in the world. With two rock-solid anchors and Rohit Sharma as the third strokemaker, couldn't have any of these combinations taken a cue from the Du Plessis-de Villiers pair and done an encore for India?

They could have. They just did not prepare for it.

Any one among Dhawan, Kohli and Rohit were capable of playing unconventional shots like de Villiers did in the first innings to get South Africa out of the stranglehold Bhuvaneshwar Kumar has put them into.

5. Did India bother to take tips from Tendulkar?

The touring India team had couple of options. To seek tips from Tendulkar while all of them were in Mumbai to attend Kohli and Anushka Sharma's wedding reception on December, 26, 2017. Tendulkar attended this reception with his family. Few days later, The Times of India ran an interview with
Tendulkar about how India should approach the Test in South Africa.

Sachin Tendulkar. Pic courtesy: News18.com
"Negotiating the first 25 overs will be crucial," said the master blaster in response. If they found it beyond their ego or did not find it appropriate to speak with him, the India touring team should have at least assigned their media manager to keep an eye on any such tips offered by former players to the media, which in India works relentlessly for exclusives.


Why was it important to listen to what Tendulkar had to say?

It's because this cricket icon knows full well what "being prepared" means.

Shane Warne, among the cricket world's bowling legends, wrote an article for London's The Telegraph on 9th November, 2013 headlined "India batsman Sachin Tendulkar was my greatest opponent, says former Australia spinner"


In this article, Warne devoted extensive space in describing how Tendulkar prepared himself in tackling or countering bowlers plotting his downfall.

Now read an excerpt from that article in Warne's words:

"I saw Sachin play some great innings but two stand out. In the 1998 Test in Chennai I dismissed him fifth ball in the first innings. In the second he hit me for six second or third ball and went on to make 155 in tough conditions to set up India to win the Test.

Shane Warne. Pic courtesy: Wikipedia
Six years later at the Sydney Cricket Ground he made 241, his first Test double-century. I was injured at the time so was commentating but I had a great view of his innings from the box.

He had been dismissed a few times in that series by Australia bowling full and wide. He nicked off to slip and the keeper and went into the Sydney Test on the back of scores of 0, 1, 37, 0 and 44. He decided he would respond by not playing a cover drive. Now the cover drive is a fairly large part of a batsman’s armoury. When bowlers are pitching it up and trying to swing it you tend to play a lot of cover drives, but he did not play a single one in more than 10 hours at the crease.

It summed up his mental strength. He let go every ball that was pitched up outside off stump. If they dropped short he cut it, or if the bowlers were a fraction full, he would straight drive it. He would block the odd one through the covers for a single but never hit a full-on flourishing cover drive. A truly amazing innings that summed the guy up."

Note from this blogger (not Warne): [I want to add here that, at the nets,Tendulkar called for local leg-spin bowlers ahead of his second innings in that Chennai Test, scratched up rough patches outside and on the leg side of the practice wicket and asked these local bowlers to bowl on the rough patches so that he gets good practice in facing Warne.]


6. Why was the centuries-old proverbial phrase "patience is virtue" not heeded to?

Sunil Gavaskar, the only former Indian cricketer (all others are commentating from the studio) to be invited to South Africa for expert TV comments, said for the Indian team to win patience was virtue, especially in the second innings when almost two days were left for Kohli and his boys to bat and win
Gary Kirsten. Pic courtesy: Hindustan Times.
the match.

Gavaskar echoed what Tendulkar wanted the Indian batsmen to follow when they began their batting.

This Indian team, after several professional encounters with foreign coaches, prominent among them Gary Kirsten, are trained into approaching an innings session-by-session.

Had Kohli and the other top-order followed this method, along with plugging all the five loopholes listed above, India would have started their foreign soil challenge on a winning note.

Myth-buster:

There are talks about whether Ajinkya Rahane, who averages better overseas than at home, should have been playing instead of Rohit Sharma; Whether KL Rahul should have been shown preference over Dhawan; whether Ishant Sharma, on his third tour to South Africa should have been selected ahead of either Mohammed Shami or Jasprit Bumrah.
Anushka Sharma, along with wives of
Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Sanjay Bangar. Pic courtesy: Indian Express

There are other irrelevant discussions such as whether players' wives should have been allowed to travel to South Africa causing distraction; lack of practice matches (true to some extent)..

The truth is: After all these years, India's bowlers showed that they can collectively get the opposition all out twice in a Test match or take 20 wickets, a big worry during previous tours.

The ones who were not prepared were their top batsmen.

This same team, without a single change, can win the second Test in Centurion beginning 13th January, 2018, Saturday, if they adhere to and plug the six loopholes listed above.

                                                  ........................................................

If you, dear reader, feel strongly for or against the six loopholes presented in the article, please feel free to comment / ask questions. I promise to respond promptly.

Comments

  1. Interesting points... Men in blue really need to prepare well before playing overseas.

    ReplyDelete
  2. True, Ophelia. They do need to prepare even better. What's hurting Indian fans is the fact that this team was projected as the best-ever to win overseas and improve our poor away record.

    Shastri and Kohli had also boldly stated in their pre-match conference that this team was preparing to play every venue as home ground (read dominate).

    ReplyDelete
  3. You have covered the main pointers.

    ℹ think 🤔 India lacked patience.

    Rahane should be given a chance and Dhawan to rest.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Prakash. Yes, patience indeed is a virtue in a Test match and Sunil Gavaskar can teach this current India team a lot about it.

      The media is throwing up a lot of suspects who they think should be or could be rested for the second Test. They include Shikhar Dhawan, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravichandran Ashwin and even Mohammad Shami.

      Will any change in players help? Doubtful.

      Delete

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