Kolkata: The dust has not quite settled down on India’s defeat in the World Test Championship final two days back in Southampton. The disappointment of the legion of Indian fans is understandable, but the free-for-all in the social media - ranging from calling Virat Kohli an ‘unlucky captain’ to the tirade against senior pros Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane had been in extremely poor taste.
Every time an Indian cricket team suffers an agonising defeat in a major ICC event, like the latest one on Wednesday or the semi-final of the 2019 ICC World Cup, I am tempted to fall back on the famous words of Steve Waugh - former captain of the modern version of Australia’s ‘Invincibles’ when they were robbed by India in that epic Eden Gardens Test match in 2001. ‘‘The sun will come out tomorrow,’’ said Waugh - and he was spot-on.
Going forward, India’s area of concern is how does the Virat Kohli-Ravi Shastri combine address the issues at hand for the five-Test series against England, which gets under way at Trent Bridge on August 4 ? There is an inordinate gap of six weeks, and hence one should not really grudge the squad a 20-day break, as it was planned even before the WTC final started - and it still leaves them with three weeks of preparation before the first of the Test matches.
It does not take rocket science to assume that England, mauled by the Indian spinners in their recent away series, will looking to leave the grass on the pitches - and Nottingham is expected to set the tune. Taking a cue from the skipper’s veiled threat of looking for players with the ‘‘right mindset’’ for the Test team in future, one wonders what are the options available for them.
The opening pair of Rohit Sharma and young Shubman Gill had done their bit at the Ageas Bowl, especially in the first innings, when they reached a 50-plus partnership and weathered the new ball. The same, however, cannot be said for No.3 Cheteshwar Pujara, whose work ethic of recoiling into a shell (eight off 54 balls & 15 off 80) has not gone unnoticed - but can the team management bite the bullet and replace the rock of middle order with a batsman with a fresh approach?
The soft dismissals of vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane in both innings has come if for some criticism, but the Indian vice-captain had been middling the ball well till he fell to extremely poor shot selections. However, the options at hand are a KL Rahul, an impetuous strokeplayer or the resilient Hanuma Vihari - and it’s difficult to see the latter fitting into the playing XI unless they decide to play an extra batsman.
The decision of playing two finger spinners in the prevailing conditions, Ravi Ashwin (the highest wicket-taker in the WTC cycle) and Ravindra Jadeja had also come in for severe criticism, even though Kohli refused to buy it in the post-match media conference. A change in the template means the following options - playing Vihari as an extra batsman who can turn in with a few overs of handy off-spin or go for a a seam bowling allrounder, who can fill in for Hardik Pandya.
Bharat Arun, the Indian bowling coach, had hinted at grooming Shardul Thakur for that role ahead of the tour. However, these has been a clamour for the ‘missing’ Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, the best swing bowler available in the Indian ranks - and not without a reason. One of the critical areas which made a difference between India and New Zealand last week were the latter having bowlers who fitted the bill better in these conditions, with India choosing out leaving out a genuine swing bowler in Mohammed Siraj.
Let’s face it, ‘Bhuvi’ is almost an allround cricketer with a century against England on the last tour. The logic behind leaving him out is not having enough enough faith in his fitness levels to last the rigout of a Test match, but if he is in his elements in the white ball series in Sri Lanka (he turned out to be the most impressive bowler in the two limited overs series at home against England last March), then it’s worth giving him a call.
Meanwhile, one can only wait and watch!