It is a famous cliché in Test cricket and often used by the commentators, especially on the final day of a Test match that “all three results are possible”. The same three options were available for Team India on the final day of the first-ever World Test Championship or WTC 21 final, played at Southampton’s Hampshire Bowl. But Team India meekly chose the third and the most unpopular option among Indian cricket fans, and that is defeat.
All looked good till the end of the fifth day’s play and it seemed that with Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara on the crease we will at least be taken to the safe waters till Tea time arrives on the sixth or the reserve day. Despite showing the grit, consistency, and enthusiasm throughout these two years of WTC when it mattered the most Team India chose to sit down in cold water when it could have easily driven the game to a fighting draw or even to push for a victory.
One can understand that Virat Kohli’s wicket on the final day was well planned and came with the perfect execution from the Kiwis and the bowler Kyle Jamieson. But the rest of them, especially the wickets of Cheteshwar Pujara, Rishabh Pant, and Ravichandran Ashwin are extremely hard to swallow when you keep on thinking about them. WTC title was at stake and pitch wasn’t doing what it did during the first five days of the game. All needed was the application by spending more time on the pitch.
Spending more time on the pitch has a different meaning for Cheteshwar Pujara it seems. Apart from two Tests in Australia, one wonders what is going through his mind. Throughout the WTC it is hardly seen that Pujara even tries to score runs. Once on the crease, he directly goes into a shell and never comes out. Yes it is Test cricket and as mentioned above one must spend more time on the pitch but that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t rotate the strike.
Many of the WTC matches Team India has played have seen Pujara playing more than 60 or 70 balls and scoring under 20 or even 10 runs sometimes. Even after playing so many deliveries if he was successful in the latter part of his innings by lifting the strike rate by at least 50 runs per 100 balls, one would understand and appreciate his spending so much time on the crease but what ultimately happened throughout this WTC that Pujara gets out scoring 10, 15 or 20 runs (sometimes even less) after playing out 60, 70 or 80 balls and believe me that looks very ugly of him.
Test cricket has changed from the days of Gavaskars and even Dravids where they used to play out the entire day without even sweat on their foreheads. Nowadays rotation of the strike is a must as Test cricket has started producing more and more results. The best Cheteshwar Pujara can do is to follow the ‘doctrine of Michael Atherton’, the former opening batsman and captain of England. His philosophy was simple and that was to score one run per over his team has played. So, for example, if England has played 30 overs then you will definitely find Atherton’s individual score is on or around 30 runs. That not only helps a batsman to rotate the strike and also reduces the pressure on himself, his partner, and also inside the dressing room where other batters are waiting to come out and bat.
One would agree with the argument that Ajinkya Rahane was unlucky in the second innings by getting out caught behind playing a ball going outside leg stump. But then why you need to play a ball going down the leg side in that fashion in the Test match and that too in the second innings of WTC 21 final in the first place? His first innings throwing away wicket too must also come under the scrutiny. After a century at MCG and helping his team to win that Boxing Day Test match, Rahane has done very little to support his claim to remain in this Test team.
Rishabh Pant always gets away from the criticism after playing ‘completely out of the situation’ shot, when fans and commentators say that “he is like that only”. But as Sunil Gavaskar suggested yesterday while doing the commentary on the final day of the WTC 21 final, that there is a thin line between being carefree and being careless, and for me in both the innings Rishabh Pant was careless rather than carefree, the way he got out.
He played a loose shot in the first innings where instead he could have stayed longer and score more runs, by leaving that particular ball alone that would have helped India to score in the region of 275-300, but he didn’t. In the second innings when it was obvious that Team India is now trying to save the WTC 21 final and he was doing extremely well to support that try, suddenly something came into his mind and played that ‘glory shot’ which was not needed at all at that time or for that matter at any time when you are playing a Test match.
In spite of knowing that there is no one after Ravichandran Ashwin and himself who can spend time and score runs, Pant played that shot which was totally unnecessary and unwanted at that point of time. The same goes for Ashwin as well. Just after Pant’s exit he too played a very lose shot and got out, surely it wasn’t expected from Ashwin who otherwise is a very responsible cricketer and the one who saved us from defeat in the Sydney Test early this year. He could have stayed there and tried to accumulate some runs by spending time that comes naturally to him.
Despite giving away 32 runs lead in the first innings, I would be of the opinion that Team India lost the WTC 21 final on the final day only and that too when they were batting under batsman-friendly conditions. They fought out the hard time of the swing and seaming conditions and when they just had to see out four to five hours they threw away their wickets in a hurry. Although watching the Indian cricket team for almost 38 years now, this performance hasn’t come as a surprise, but certainly, it came as a shock.
If we talk about the top, middle, and lower middle-order batting in the second innings of the WTC 21 final, only Subhman Gill, Virat Kohli, and Ravindra Jadeja can say that they have been victims of good bowling. But look at the wickets of Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Rishabh Pant, and Ravichandran Ashwin.
Why would one leave the ball which is so close to your off-stump like Rohit did? The way Cheteshwar Pujara plays he would never poke the ball outside his off-stump but he did. I have already talked about Rahane, Pant, and Ashwin’s wickets. It is not that they can’t apply themselves, they can. We have seen same people spent so much time on the crease and saving the Sydney Test, we have seen the same people who scored runs with the application of mind and winning the historical Gabba Test match. When the same people do exactly the opposite and that too at the highest stage like WTC 21 final, it is bound to leave you in shock.
Social media is already asking for the heads of captain Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri. But I personally don’t see that happening in the very near future. The combo has done well in the last two years and that is why team India finished on the top of the points table and was playing the WTC 21 final. Yes, the questions can be asked that why Virat Kohli can’t guide the team to win an ICC tournament. Not only that but for me, Kohli often can be seen as a good winning captain but not a good losing captain.
His captaincy excels when Team India is winning, be any format of the game and even while captaining the RCB in the IPL. When his players are doing well on their own and he doesn’t have to make difficult decisions, he makes no mistake. But when the opposition starts asking tough questions he becomes clueless. He doesn’t make those bold and unusual decisions just like his predecessor Mahendra Singh Dhoni used to make when the team is staring defeat.
Yesterday was also the anniversary of the ICC Champions Trophy when Team India last won an ICC event. In that final too Dhoni brought back Ishant Sharma during the final overs even though he went for runs in his previous spell and got wickets from him. Such bold decisions are nowhere to be seen under Virat Kohli’s captaincy. Another tough tour is coming up for him, the tour of England. The Englishmen currently are not so in good form these days, but the fact remains that they will play in their home conditions just like India played in February-March against them.
Still, this is the best opportunity for Kohli to win a Test series in England just like he had in Australia in 2018 and he delivered at that time for sure. We have a good bowling attack there is no doubt about it, but out batting will be found wanting if yesterday’s performance is anything to go by. Sunil Gavaskar repeatedly said yesterday that during August-September the ball will not swing as much as it did in WTC 21 final but it will certainly seam and yesterday we threw away some precious wicket even when the ball was not seaming big.
The best thing for team India now after losing WTC 21 final is that Kohli, Shastri, and Sourav Ganguly should be called for an online meeting and decide that no team member will return to India as is planned. They will stay in England for the next six weeks and will play against local cricket club teams if matches against English counties are not possible. At least three to four, four-day games must be scheduled between now and the first Test against England in August.
This will give Team India a much-needed ‘match practice’. They can use all the batsmen and bowlers by playing 15 a side games where all fifteen can bat and bowl. One thing is for sure, and that is that the English Test bowlers must have watched the entire WTC 21 final with utmost interest while taking the upcoming series against Team India into the consideration. If we as just fans can find so many faults in our batsmen then being Test bowlers the English bowlers must have found many. Thus, practice games are a must for Team India to make a match of the English side playing in their own backyard. Plus remaining in the same atmosphere for a month and a half is far better than coming back to India and again being forced to acclimatized to the English weather a few weeks later.
Pujara and Rahane must be told to perform or perish and go back to Ranji Trophy and improve their batting style if they failed in this upcoming series against England. Rohit Sharma should be given a free license like Virender Sehwag once had, that might bring the best out of him as he is technically more sound than Sehwag was. Investment in Gill and Pant must continue but not without caution and the same goes for our bowlers as well. Kohli and Shastri too must be told that their respective performances as captain and coach are under scanner. Do well against England and bring us the World Twenty20 trophy, else we need to find their alternatives.
One would say that the suggestions given above are too harsh after just one defeat. But one must not forget that it is not just another defeat it is a defeat in the final of the WTC 21 which we could have won or shared the mace given the circumstances on the last day and after the hard work our team produced for not less than two years. So if the BCCI doesn’t want to repeat this mistake Team India did in the past it must challenge these players who actually have in them to accept them and perform. That will make Team India much more stronger and responsible as well.
24th June 2021, Thursday