Four days back, the Indian cricket team management had to make a choice -- give Virat Kohli and Co. an additional day to rest and train ahead of the opening Test against England, or provide the players more hours to get into the zone and get their forms up and running, in a real match situation.
The choice should have been pretty straightforward, and made taking into account the universal truth that Indian cricketers have always been unhappy tourists in England. To make things worse than ever, they are not heading into the five-match Test with a winning momentum from the limited-overs series, either.
After winning the T20 series, India lost the ODIs against England, and, were still jittery with the batting combinations and bowling brigade ahead of the lone practice match, against Essex, which was originally scheduled as a four-dayer starting on July 25. And, after the tie that ended with a draw on July 27, with less than three days of play, things are now more unsettled than earlier. The England pacers will be the happier lot going into the opener at Edgbaston in Birmingham on August 1.
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There are several problems to consider. The visiting bowlers were unable to bowl the English County team out, while the Indian top-order revealed a couple of fragile links in the long list of celebrated batsmen they have on the roster.
Shikhar Dhawan had two back-to-back ducks while Cheteshwar Pujara, the regular No. 3, failed to get going in both of India’s innings, scoring 1 and 23. Meanwhile the bowlers -- pacers Hardik Pandya, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Shardul Thakur -- struggled with one thing or the other, from line and length to, at times, a lack of pace to trouble the English domestic side.
Meanwhile, the spin spearhead, Ravichandran Ashwin, walked out because of a finger injury on the second day of the match -- a long day when the Indian bowlers failed to break a resolute Essex batting order. He just bowled five overs in the entire match.
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Shami’s figures were 0-68, Ishant returned 3-59 (but struggled with his line in the latter stages of the innings), Thakur had 1-58, while Pandya managed 2-58.
Amidst all the carnage and confusion though, Umesh Yadav stood out with a strong 4-35 for India. Yadav was the only bowler who could generate some lateral movement and troubled the Essex batsmen through the match. His form is good news for India, and paradoxical considering he is the man who hasn’t played a match outside the sub-continent in two years now.
However, the Indians, in their infinite wisdom, seem to have given the tour match a rather less important position in the itinerary. While looking head, talking and worrying about conditions in Edgbaston, they seem to have missed the point of the match against Essex altogether.
The management gave a very weird reason for cutting the practice match short. The Indians were reportedly worried about the heatwave in England, and were more keen on giving the players some additional nets time in Birmingham, the venue of the first Test.
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That’s just absurd. Indians, coming from the land of heatwaves that make the English summer look cold, getting worried about the slightly hot summer in England where the Mercury barely crossed the mid-30s on the Celsius scale! Against Essex, they had a chance to get the combos finalised at least, besides giving the batters and bowlers some confidence. The Kohli-Ravi Shastri Indian think-tank seems to have bungled that chance.
The U-turn by Kohli specially rankles, considering how he had clamoured for a County stint to be best prepared for the tour this time around.
The captain was keen on playing as much as possible in England, to get the best possible understanding of the playing conditions. He believed it would have helped him overcome the last bastion that stands between him and true, universally-accepted batting greatness. He had failed miserably the last time India played Tests in England -- in ten innings, the Indian skipper managed 134 runs at an average of 13.50 in 2014.
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At the time, Kohli had no idea on how to counter the swing the English bowlers were generating. Of course, Kohli the batsman, has grown in stature since then, but one has to also remember that most of that growth in reputation happened in the familiar confines of home.
Now, on the cusp of another England series, the skipper and management seem to have made a call that has compromised the side’s preparedness for the English heat, pun intended! Regardless of the outcome, for a man known to be fastidious in preparation, this seems a touch out of line.