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From CK To VK. Indian Skippers In England- Part 15

Virat Kohli took over the captaincy from Mahendra Singh Dhoni in 2014. There can’t be two characters who are so contrasting, yet very similar. Kohli is fiery, MSD is Ice Cold. Kohli wears his heart on his sleeve, MSD is immune to emotions. Kohli retaliates with anger, MSD is coolly sarcastic in reply to criticisms. Kohli, as a cricketer, is one of the technically most sound, MSD is unorthodox to the core. Virat is supple, graceful, and attractive to watch when he bats, MSD just either pushes and prods or butchers the bowling. MSD has only two gears, first and top (sometimes reverse too, these days). Virat likes to play along the ground, MSD loves taking the areal route. The Only similarity is, both are extremely aggressive, yet the expressions of their aggression are polarly opposite. Yet, when it comes to the results they produced while captaining the Indian team to England, no dissimilarity was found. Just like Dhoni, Kohli too lost the series in England.

Virat Kohli in action!
Virat Kohli

Not that he was not trying to win. It was just that the team let him down, more often than not. Kohli the batsman excelled in the tour, and outshone virtually every batsman in either side, with circumspect technique, great temperament, and fighting with the skin of his teeth, placing a large price-tag on his wicket. Yet, though Kohli sold his wicket very dearly, the other batsmen kept falling prey to the deliveries outside the off-stump, not leaving them alone, and getting drawn to them like young men to naked breasts. The team fell apart around Kohli, but he stood tall being a tower of courage. Though the bowlers pulled their weight in, the fielding was poor, and batting even more so, excepting the captain.

Kohli was no foreigner to the English conditions, he had been there on the 2014 tour, and had failed dismally. He was an Anderson bunny then, but so were all the Indian batsmen. While Kohli had learnt from his experience of the earlier tour, all other batsmen kept repeating the same mistakes, and India lost the series.

India went into the first test after losing the ODI series 1-2. Edgbaston was cloudy when Kohli lost the toss, and he might’ve chuckled when Joe Root chose to bat first. The fast bowlers were licking their lips. Just before the match, Michael Holding had had a chat with Ishant Sharma about the lengths which should be bowled in these conditions. Strangely, Ashwin came in to bowl in the 9th over and promptly removed Cook. After the spinner had drawn the first blood, Keaton Jennings stuck together with his captain and they strung together a decent 72 run stand. Jennings fell for 42, and Dawid Malan followed quickly and Johnny Bairstow joined Root to add 104 runs and take England to 216/3. But Bairstow and Root fell in Quick succession, making 80 and 70 respectively, and for once, India didn’t let the tail wag too much and England was all out for 287.

Virat Kohli- Century Celebration
Silent celebration post century

Ashwin and Shami were the picks of the bowlers for India taking 4 and 3 wickets respectively. Indian reply had a solid start, with Dhawan and Murali Vijay put on exactly 50 for the first wicket, before losing their wickets. Then KL Rahul fell quickly at 4, and India were tottering at 59 for 3. Then the captain took over. Kohli single-handedly took India to 274, in the process scoring a very matured 149 runs. There was no support from the other end, though Ajinkya and Pandya hung around for an hour each, their scores of 15 and 22 were no pretense of support for the captain. But Kohli was “in the zone”. He shielded the tail-enders, farmed strike, and played a Steve Waugh kind of an innings. He scored a whopping 54% of the team’s runs and looked impenetrable. When he was last out in search of quick runs, India had conceded a slender 13 run lead to England. Debutante Sam Curran took 4 for 74. The England batting too crumbled in their second essay, and apart from Sam Curran (63 n.o.) none made a sizeable score. Ishant Sharma claimed a five-for and was well supported by Ashwin and Umesh Yadav.

England were all out for 180, leaving India a target of 193 for a win. In pursuit of 193, India began shakily, they quickly were reduced to 78 for 5, and the captain was the only hope to either save or win the match for them. Kohli found some support in Dinesh Kartik and Pandya, but it was not enough. With the score on 141, he fell to Stokes, making 51 in just over 3 hours. Sedate by his standard, but he had shown immense maturity in playing according to the situation. Still 52 short of victory, and with the tail-enders only making token appearances with the bat, Pandya opened up a bit, but fell as the Last Indian wicket with India still short by 30 runs. India lost, but not without putting up a fight, and that was the silver lining to the cloud. The team was at least showing intent to fight. Only the batting needed to click.

In the second test the Lord’s history loomed over the Indian team, and they performed dismally. The first day was washed out, and where the wicket would have sweated and offered more juice to the quick bowlers, India made a baffling decision to play two spinners. India made 107 in their first innings, and James Anderson picked up 5 wickets at the cost of a mere 20 runs. With India a fast bowler short, England smashed the Indian bowling around, and despite being in a hole at 89-4, they came out of it due to some lusty hitting by Johnny Bairstow and Chris Woakes, the former making 93, and the latter scoring a brutal 137 (n.o.). Sam Curran continued his purple patch making a quickfire 40, and England declared at 396/7, 279 ahead of India. In the second innings, Anderson and Broad picked 4 wickets apiece and Woakes took 2. India all out for 130. India had vastly improved on their margin of loss, this time losing by an innings and 159 runs.

2-0 down India lost the toss and were promptly put in by England. The openers put on 60, but both were out in quick succession, followed by Pujara. India again 82-3. But the captain was there and had an able ally in Ajinkya Rahane, and the two added 159 runs. Kohli made a fine 97, and Ajinkya made an obdurate 81. Then the tailenders too contributed bits and pieces and India for the first time in the series crossed 300. In reply to India’s 329, England batting was all over the place. Hardik Pandya broke the backbone picking up 5 for 28 in a mere 6 over spell, and England folded up for 161. With a 168 run lead, India would have backed themselves to win this test, and they batted with a new-found confidence in their second innings.

Dhawan and Rahul gave India a fine start, Pujara made a characteristically defiant 72, And Hardik Pandya made a run-a-ball 52, but the pick of the Indian batsmen was Kohli. He had missed out on a century in the first innings by a mere three runs and was well set. He knew the importance of hanging in there and made a fine, fine 103 in just under 5 hours, punctuated with 10 gorgeous hits to the fence. His innings was a masterclass in batsmanship. He was sound, confident, alert, and his footwork was assuredly quicksilver. India made 352/7 before declaring their innings closed, and gave England a monumental target of 521 for a win. The English top order faltered, and they lost their first four wickets for 62 runs. But then both Ben Stokes and Jose Butler played innings which were very much contrary to what they are known for. Both these dashers showed exemplary defiance and took England to 231 before Butler fell for a well-made 106 in just over four hours. Adil Rashid, Stuart Broad and Anderson, all tried to resist, but eventually, England wilted and were all out for 317. Bumrah took a five-for, and India won the test by 203 runs, giving themselves a chance to square the series.

The fourth test at Southampton began very well for India. Winning the toss and batting first, the decision looked to have backfired on England, as they were quickly reduced to 6 for 86 by Ishant, Bumrah and Shami. Moen Ali (40) and Sam Curran (78) put on a handy 81 runs for the seventh wicket, and another 33 run partnership between Curran and Broad took England to a respectable score of 246. In reply, India made 273, Pujara making an obdurate 132 not out, and Kohli making 40. None of the other batsmen contributed anything of significance. Five Indian wickets fell to Moen Ali’s pretense of off-spin. He continued to make merry at India’s expense. England made 271 in their second innings, riding on Butler’s 69 and Useful 40s from the captain Root and the ever contributing Curran. Mohammad Shami was the pick of the bowlers taking four for 57. India had to make 245 to win. Definitely gettable, just they had to hang in there. But that is precisely they did not do. Apart from Kohli (58) and Ajinkya Rahane (51), no batsman thought it was worthwhile to stay at the wicket for more than an hour, and India folded up for 184. Again, Moeen Ali took 4 wickets, bagging 9 in the match and in the process, sealing the series for England.

The fifth test was a dead rubber, and the master opener Alistair Cook was going to call it curtains after this test. England were keen to give him a winning send-off. Electing to bat first, England made 332, Cook himself making 71, Moen Ali Batting one drop making an even 50, and Jose Butler continuing his dream run with a score of 89. “Sir” Ravindra Jadeja took 4 wickets and Ishant Sharma and Shami took 3 apiece. Indian reply was lacklustre. They made 292, the main contributors being Kohli (49), Hanuma Vihari (56) and “Sir” Jadeja 86 not out.

In the second innings, Alistair Cook came in determined to make his mark on his last test. He batted for six and a half hours and made a superb, stoic and sensible 147. Joe Root too, after the first test found form and made a scintillating 125, and riding on these two hundreds of contrasting nature, England declared their innings closed at 423/8. Mohammad Shami and Ravindra Jadeja came under a lot of stick, conceding 110 and 179 runs respectively.

India were to make 464 to win. They were quickly 2 for 3, losing Pujara and Kohli for ducks. Kohli made a golden duck, out first ball. But for the first time in the tour, KL Rahul was batting with a great deal of assurance. He was joined by Ajinkya Rahane, who batted well, hanging on for nearly two and a half hours before he fell to who else? Moeen Ali. Though the 118 run partnership had retrieved the situation, India were still in danger of losing another one badly. Much was expected of Hanuma Vihari, after his defiant first innings half-century but he didn’t trouble the scorers. It was Rishabh Pant who had to support Rahul to help India save the match. But the young wicketkeeper had other ideas. After getting his eye in, he launched in a flurry of strokes, Making 114 studded with 15 fours and four sixes, adding 204 with Rahul for the 6th wicket. With the score on 325, Rahul fell for 149 and immediately after three runs were added to the score fell, Pant. Indian lower order didn’t do much and India were all down for 345 losing by 118 runs and losing the series comprehensively; 4-1.

Kohli the batsman in this series was superb. He was in the form of his life (as he had been since 2015), scored 593 runs at an average of 59.30, the best performance by an Indian captain on an England tour. He learnt and remembered his lessons from the previous tour. When you have got the talent as much as Virat Kohli is blessed with, you have to be more aware of what not to do, than what to do. It is simple for him. If he stays at the wicket, runs invariably come at a good clip. The next best Indian Batsman was Pujara with 299 at 39.71. It is this chasm between the Scores of Kohli and the others, which tells the story of the series. The bowlers did their job admirably, more often than not. But the batsmen let the team down. Kohli the captain, came in for a lot of criticism, but a captain is only as good as his team and in the end, is judged by the number of wins. On that count, the captain had failed. Nevertheless, India had been fighting well in the series, but when the bowlers brought them back in the match, the batsmen frittered the advantage away. Too much T20 was showing it’s effect.

Kohli was also a lot unimaginative as a captain and failed to make things happen on most occasions. Besides, wrong team selections cost him at least two matches. But this doesn’t mean he is a bad captain always. Yes, he is evolving as a cricketer, as a captain, is supremely fit, and has an astute cricket brain, Besides, he can channel his aggression well, and motivates players of similar combative nature, like Ravindra Jadeja and Rishabh Pant, by backing them to the hilt to play their natural games. One disappointing series doesn’t write him off as a captain, and looking at his form and fitness, he has at least a decade to play and take Indian cricket team to new highs.

And yes, he leads from the front. And always does himself what he asks his team to do.

Hope you liked the final part of the series- From CK to VK. Indian Skippers in England- Part 15 . Until then, stay tuned and keep reading www.shamsnwags.com