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India misses the mace

Ravi Shastri and his ilk will continue to insist that India, at 121, is still number two in the ICC Test rankings and well placed above number three Australia who is at 108.

But rankings really don’t matter much in cricket. It’s the mace that matters. And the mace is in New Zealand’s hands, who appeared a vastly superior team to India in the World Test Championship. How one wishes that the mace was in Indian hands. India had worked so hard to get to the finals.

Virat Kohli has hinted at an overhaul of the Indian side. He says that there is a need to bring in the right people with the right mindset. Many people are interpreting this to mean an indictment of Pujara. But Pujara single-handedly demolished the feared Australians in their own backyard in India’s last-but-one tour Down Under, and then played a stellar role in overcoming a full-strength Aussie side more recently.

Kohli though is right. The team needs an overhaul. But of all its major batsmen. Out of its four most experienced batsmen, three—Rohit Sharma, Pujara, and Ajinkya Rahane—average in the forties. Only Kohli averages in the fifties, but in the low fifties. In the golden age of the Indian batsmanship, when the Fab Five—Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman, and Sehwag—were playing, Tendulkar and Dravid maintained averages in the mid- to high-fifties for most of their career, with even Sehwag crossing fifty often.

Kohli, with 70 international hundreds is often hailed as a modern-day great, but is he really in the league of Tendulkar? Tendulkar has a 100 international hundreds, of which 51 have come in the cauldron of cricket, Test matches. Kohli has barely 27 Test hundreds. More worryingly, he hasn’t scored a Test century since the match against Bangladesh in November 2019. In the last 14 Test innings that he has played since November 2019, he has scored just 345 runs, at an average of 24.64. Something is going terribly wrong somewhere.

BCCI President Sourav Ganguly desperately wants India to win an ICC trophy. India actually won the biggest prize in cricket, which was bearding a full-strength Aussie side in its own den, but that was under Rahane, not Kohli. Rahane’s calm captaincy was in direct contrast to Kohli’s hypercharged one, but truth be told, even Rahane is struggling for runs.

Not to get too personal, but Kohli and his wife Anushka Sharma are constantly found in the pages of celebrity gossip websites. Sharma was even somehow portrayed as the first lady of Indian cricket on a tour to Australia. Cricket is sacred to Indians. They are not concerned with the spouses of their cricket captains. The spouses of Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly, and Dhoni (for a while until she too started preening her feathers) kept a low profile.

The last time an Indian cricket captain gave his partner so much limelight was Mohammed Azharuddin and we all know what became of that. If Kohli stays captain, can he please tone down his personal life and exposure?

There seems to be a drought of fresh talented batsmen to replace the Big 4—Kohli, Sharma, Pujara, Rahane—of Indian Test batting. Perhaps that’s why they seem to have taken their places for granted. They are the ones who need to do a serious introspection—are they up to top-flight cricket and winning India Test matches when it really matters such as the World Test Championship, or will they wing it in a series or two with a century once in a while and keep retaining their places?

Mukul Kesavan wrote recently that Ashwin should be made Test captain. I heartily endorse his proposal. Kohli & Co. should be left to concentrate on their batting. Ashwin is at the top of his game. He is canny and articulate and would make a great Test captain. Perhaps it’s time to split the captaincy. Give the Test one to Ashwin and let Kohli boss white ball cricket.

Kohli also said after the World Test Championship that there was no error in choosing two spinners for the match. That is simply baloney. The match was being played at the height of the English summer, at a time when rain and clouds reign supreme. The ball swings like nobody’s business. India had two three good seamers on the bench—Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Siraj, and Shardul Thakur. One of them should have been picked.

India might do well under Kohli in the English Test series. The English team has just been beaten fairly easily by New Zealand, even when New Zealand rotated its players and didn’t field its full-strength side. If India beats England, then all of India’s weaknesses, so starkly exposed by New Zealand, would be brushed under the carpet. But if India really wants the Test mace, then it must do a complete overhaul of the team, just as Kohli suggested, but perhaps not in the way he wants.



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Disclaimer

Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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