By Prabir Biswas
Team India was comprehensively beaten by Australia at the Wankhede on Tuesday. It was a shocking “reality check” for Virat Kohli and his boys. Agreed Australia are no lambs like the current Sri Lankan side or a talented-but-inconsistent bunch of eleven, the Windies. But the team looked completely out of sorts. It seemed that our boys had lost the touch of the bat and ball. The comparison between both the teams looked so odious that one felt that schoolboys had been fielded against a champion side. That Australia is a far better and professional side was no surprise. Then why did a team with so many promising players just could not cope up with them? Why the total subjugation?
What was the logic to include Lokesh Rahul, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan—all openers in the team? It completely skewed the balance of the batting combination at the top order. The result: Captain Virat Kohli had to demote himself to number four, a position in which he is not comfortable and even records go to prove this. Virat Kohli has scored close to 10,000 runs at an average of more than 60 while batting at No. 3 in the ODIs while his average had dipped to a little over 55 while playing at No.4. Similarly, Shreyas Iyer who has been drafted into the Indian side as a “specialist No 4” batter had to bat at no. 5.
Shikhar Dhawan and Lokesh Rahul had built a good opening partnership but when the time came to press the accelerator and go after part-time bowlers, they floundered. That allowed Australian bowlers to put the brake on India’s scoring rate. The way our batsmen were grafting runs gave the impression that the track was difficult to bat on. But it was to the contrary. And when Kohli came in, he showed no inclination to rebuild the innings again and went after Zampa. He should have realised that he needed to stay on and take on the responsibility as a skipper as there was no batsman who could do the job in case he left early.
Dhawan’s 99-ball-78 showed that the southpaw was playing for himself rather than the team, trying to save his wicket. Manish Pandey’s inclusion instead of Dhawan with Rahul-Rohit as openers could have brought back the much-needed balance to the team.
How long a rope does Rishabh Pant need now? Enough is enough. The team management’s persistence to get an answer on his form-revival is becoming a Herculean task with no answers emerging on the horizon of cricket lovers and experts. He again failed to deliver at the Wankhede when the team needed him to amass runs in quick flow—the lietmotif for his inclusion in the side.
On the bowling front, Bumrah was a poor reflection of his past form. No toe-cracking yorkers, only hanging half volleys… His supporters may say that he came after a long gap. But dear Bumrah, you can’t lose your bearings (7 for 50). You are our main striking bowler! You need to get that fear factor working amongst the batsmen. Come on live up to your reputation! It will be shocking for Indian cricket if we do not get back the Bumrah we know.
The inclusion of India seamer Shardul Thakur was also a mistake. He too went for far too many. That he did not have a fantastic record in one-dayers was completely lost on the selectors. Five for 43 was abysmal!
Having said that, all credit goes to the Australians, especially David Warner. He seems to be in a new avatar altogether. The way he batted and paced his innings will give headaches to Virat and his boys in the rest of the games. He seems to have rediscovered himself. Michell Stark’s bowling was lethal. The ball that scalped Rohit was a beauty with searing speed, more than 140 km per hour. He was ably supported by Cummins, and spinners Adam Zampa and Ashton Agar.
The body language of our boys showed dejection. It seemed Virat and his boys had suddenly lost the will to fight. It is time for retribution at Rajkot Virat!!. Even if you lose the series, throw the gauntlet, fight it out. All the best.
—The author is a cricket enthusiast and works as Deputy Editor at India Legal magazine