A Team to Select. A Series to Win.

Written by  //  August 19, 2015  //  Sport  //  Comments Off on A Team to Select. A Series to Win.

In the coming week, cricket will lose two giants of the game- a captain who fell at the cusp of greatness and a wicketkeeper-batsman who will inspire young cricketers for years to come. These two captains may well hog the limelight, but the scanner will most definitely be on the young captain who is to lead India into the P Sara Oval with a series at stake. Batting aside, the ‘aggression’ that Virat Kohli seeks to bring to the game and to his captaincy is what has garnered most attention. Only 4 matches in, it may well be too soon to comment on his captaincy, but there is something to be said about this ‘aggression’.

It has been over a year that India last won a Test match. The win against England at Lord’s, though negated by the 3-1 series defeat, was, indeed, memorable. Nonetheless, India has come agonisingly close to winning a Test match on two other occasions as well. Each of these wins, had they materialised, would have been historic Test victories. What is interesting to note about the two matches is that it is the ‘aggression’ professed by the team and by their captain that was credited for the team having made it that close to victory. However, it may be prudent to wonder whether it was the so-called ‘aggression’ that in fact accounted for the team not having crossed the line.

Please note that Virat Kohli has not sought to be aggressive only in terms of strategy but also in terms of team selection. Raw pace, wrist-spin and attacking strokeplay has been his mantra. The inclusion of Varun Aaron, Rohit Sharma and Karn Sharma in the team at Adelaide and the inclusion of the first two in the team at Galle make the same pretty evident. Importantly, at Adelaide, Aaron and Karn were selected over Bhuveneshwar Kumar and Ashwin and at Galle, Aaron and Rohit were chosen over Bhuveneshwar and Cheteshwar Pujara. In my opinion, these selections are what contributed to India missing out on two famous Test victories. Ashwin has been India’s most successful bowler since and Pujara is not known to plant his foot outside leg to defend a ball pitching on off on a Day Four subcontinent wicket. Bhuvi, though not at the peak of his form, does surely have the potential and the ability to stem the flow of runs and to chip in with the bat.

At Adelaide, both Aaron and Karn leaked between 4 and 6 runs per over. Moreover, neither of them looked incisive or came close to troubling the Aussie batsmen. Aaron’s performance at Galle was similar. In fact, at Galle, Aaron even came to be smashed all over the park by Chandimal when Sri Lanka was dismissed for 183 in the First Innings. In the Second Innings, it may be harsh to expect him to have taken multiple wickets on a third day track. However, it can be expected of him to check the flow of runs when a batsman is virtually scoring at a run a ball so as to enable the spinners to have a better chance at the other end. Unfortunately, he failed to do that as well.

The reason I stress on the bowling performances in both these matches is because, in my opinion, the matches were not lost entirely in the chase but in the number of runs conceded. One can only wonder how different the target could have been at Adelaide, had Ashwin been in the team and how much lesser we could have lost by at Galle had a seamer bowled economically on Day Three.

Having said so, as is often the case with India the batsmen could have salvaged the situation. But, as we know, this was not to be. Rohit Sharma, in my opinion, failed to deliver at crucial moments in both the matches. At Adelaide, India was 242-4 in the Fourth Innings-just 122 short of a historic win- when Rohit Sharma walked out to bat. At Galle, India was 30-2 in a low-scoring chase with the runs dried up and Herath bowling once again with all his guile when he walked in. Both times, the match was interestingly poised, because at Adelaide we did not have any recognised batsmen left in the pavilion and at Galle we desperately needed to shift the momentum in our favour before the chase got out of hand.  Rohit, though, batted like a fish out of water- without any foot work whatsoever on both occasions. In each match he threw his wicket away with a careless shot. Though at Adelaide we did not have any other batsmen to play in his place, one can only wonder how different the chase could have been at Galle with a steady Pujara in the middle.

Did India, then, not miss out on two famous victories because of an aggressive team selection?

As the action now shifts to Colombo, it will be interesting to see whether Kohli will continue with this ‘aggression’ in team selection or will opt for pragmatism instead. Aaron, Karn and Rohit may well be game changers. Their aggression may well win us moments in the game. But, can they win us a match? Test matches victories are hard-earned. Victories away from home are even more difficult. An aggression in the approach towards the game- an intent to win is desirable. But does that mean that we compromise on prudence in this approach? The team selection at Colombo should be interesting to note.

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