LONDON: The Virat Kohli-Ravi Shastri combo has been one of the most hyped captain-coach pairs in Indian cricket in recent times. Anil Kumble, the man who was in charge before Shastri, had to make way because of differences with the captain and Shastri was brought in because he is on the same page with Kohli.
It all worked fine as long as India played at home, but in away games in South Africa and England, the results haven’t quite gone their way. Fighting defeats are still acceptable, but the question marks are coming thick and fast in the wake of some strange decisions which have let India down.
On a dry pitch in Birmingham – where R Ashwin was asked to bowl in the seventh over of the Test match – India went in with one spinner. At Lord’s – with rain around and conditions conducive for swing bowling – Kuldeep Yadav was played as a second spinner.
“It’s a decision of the team management,” is what Indian players who have come for press-conferences since that decision have said. It means Kohli and Shastri put their thoughts together to formulate strategies that backfired in both Tests.
A source close to the group that was involved in Lord’s pitch preparation was fuming. “I don’t remember anybody from the Indian team management asking the curators how the pitch is going to play. After the continuous rain of two days, there shouldn’t have been two spinners playing,” the source said.
But people here are questioning the role of the coaches, who are there to guide a young captain. “I cannot quite understand what the coaches are doing. The Indian batsmen are doing the basics wrong innings after innings. Somebody should stand up and take responsibility,” former India wicketkeeper Farokh Engineer says.
Not that Shastri isn’t doing anything at the nets. When the Indian batsmen were trying to get it right at the Lord’s practice nets ahead of the second Test, Shastri was either standing beside the net or in the umpire’s position, trying to address the mistakes the batsmen were making. The plan of dealing with the swing of the English pacers by standing outside the crease was also formulated by the captain and the coach and it worked brilliantly for Kohli, but the rest have been unable to execute it.
There’s also a sense of sympathy around Kohli for the simple reason that he is the best batsman in the world. “Kohli as captain is still work in progress,” former West Indian captain Clive Lloyd told TOI on the sidelines of the release of Boria Majumdar’s book ‘Eleven Gods and a Billion Indians’. “We will still have to wait to see where he goes as captain,” Lloyd added.
There are, of course, voices which insist that a captain (and a coach) is only as good as his team. They are not completely wrong – it becomes virtually impossible to make a match of it when the team gets all out for 107 and 130 in two innings.
But what the think-tank can possibly do is make decisions that give the team the best chance to make the most of the conditions. The Kohli-Shastri combo hasn’t done that so far and we can safely say time is running out, at least in the context of this series.