In the off chance that as a fan, or as a sports journalist, you are inclined towards analysing the drubbing England handed out to the Australia-conquering Indian cricket team in the opening Test of the four-match series in Chennai, then beware. Don’t meddle with the internal matters of Indian cricket. The national side, and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), have a roster full of current and former cricketers, and the son of the home minister, to deal with this internal matter -- the big loss at home.
How did India manage to slump to a 227-run loss? Why did the famed batting line-up fail? Why is Rohit Sharma in the playing XI? Why is he in the Test squad at all? Why couldn’t India’s hallowed batsmen -- including the world’s best Virat Kohli -- score a ton on a pitch where Joe Root, the English skipper, scored a double century? Why did the Indians -- famed for their prowess against spin -- fold to two inexperienced English tweakers, Dom Bess and Jack Leach. They took 11 out of 20 Indian scalps in the match despite having a combined experience of just 26 Test matches. Furthermore they were playing in India for the first time. Why? Who? What? How?
Internal affairs. Mind your own business!
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Of course, skipper Kohli is not one who would shy away from being self-critical. The loss on Tuesday was his fourth Test in a row as captain. The other Great Leader is known to own up to shortcomings, be it internal or external, around cricket. He just takes exception when it comes to matters around the nation. So Kohli had “body language” and “intensity” to blame.
“Credit to England, they got stuck in and put up a big total on the board. Our body language and intensity were not up to the mark, [in the] second innings we were much better," said the skipper during the post-match presentation.
To start with, let us applaud Kohli’s acknowledgement that England did play better before getting to the body language and intensity part. One would imagine Test match cricket to be a bit more nuanced, and the contest over five days a bit more layered to be decided on just the body language of one set of players. The match was won or lost in a battle of bat and ball but also that of temperament, application, patience and all the countless other virtues that’s a prerequisite for a successful Test player. And, a collective of such Test players make a winning side. England had those men in their ranks and they applied themselves beautifully.
The other point to ponder is when would Kohli snap out of these “boys played well/not well” mumbo jumbo utterances those less articulate cricket skippers of the 1990s were known to employ quite often. Remember those memes!
Kohli, who perhaps considers himself a well-tutored master of rhetoric by now, got into it on cue.
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“I don't think we put enough pressure on them with the ball in the first half. Collectively, as a bowling unit, fast bowlers and Ash (Ravichandran Ashwin), were good in the first innings but we also needed to contain a few more runs and create pressure," Kohli said at the post-match presentation.
If the bowlers were good, England would not have posted 578 runs on board. Isn’t that a simple logic in cricket, or in sport in general? Then again, cricket is not as simple a game as they say, and Kohli knows it all too well.
“Having said that, it was a slow wicket and not helping the bowlers which made it easy for the batsmen to rotate strike and get into the game. Just looked like not much was happening in it on the first two days. That's a fair assessment (the fourth and fifth bowlers not being up to the mark). You need your bowling unit to step up and create pressure on the opposition. We didn't achieve that in this game which is fine, lack of execution is acceptable but to understand our mindset was right is very important for us,” he added.
Now has Kohli confused y’all too? Or is the equivocation just doing me in? He goes to and fro from praising bowlers to saying pitch did not help, to bowlers did not manage to perform in one breath. He ends it by saying that there was a lack of execution from the players, while also reiterating that he is “fine” with it.
There you go. If one thought that the Indians would be keen to learn a lesson or two from this drubbing, then we are wrong. They are fine with the underperformance. They are fine with players not being up to the mark. At least, the skipper is. And he is known to roll up his sleeve, bare and thump his chest, and speak his heart out. In all honesty. Like the honesty he showed in acknowledging that the players, in their pre-match meeting in Chennai, had discussed the ongoing farmers’ protest.
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“Like any issue present in the country, we do talk about it and everyone had expressed what they had to,” Kohli had told the media last Thursday when they questioned him about the concerted tweet from the players who spoke about unity in the country and that India would deal with internal matters in its own way after international celebrities such as singer Rihanna called attention to the plight of the agitating farmers on social media.
“That’s about it. We briefly spoke about it in the team meeting and we carried on discussing the team and game plans,” he added.
A day prior to that interaction, Kohli and Sachin Tendulkar led a host of current and former cricketers in tweeting out the now infamous ‘internal matters’ tweet.
“Let us all stay united in this hour of disagreements. Farmers are an integral part of our country and I’m sure an amicable solution will be found between all parties to bring about peace and move forward together,” Kohli had tweeted.
That begs a question. And one is biting the bullet despite knowing that what gets discussed in team meetings is the side’s internal matter or priority. Shouldn’t the Indian team players have been getting their psyche, game plan, technique, body language (like the skipper mentioned) and intensity on the same page rather than getting their tweets concerted before the start of the series against England? When the Indian were busy cutting, tweaking and pasting tweets, the English were probably tweaking and priming their cut shots and cover drives.
Of course, the players are entitled to express their opinion in matters of national interest other than cricket. The similarities in the tweet, and the timing, however, warrants the question whether those indeed were original opinions. That apart, it also showed the disconnect the Indian cricket team players have with regards to the ground reality of Indian society and economy. This regardless of what their backgrounds are. That’s another claim to fame of this current Indian side. That it includes players from all nooks and corners of India.
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However, cricket, the richest sport in the country, accords them status that enables ivory towers and glass bubbles (not to be confused with the bio bubbles they play in these days). They remain behind digital walls, shop online, pay with apps, and form a disconnect so severe that they would probably be thinking that the vegetables in their healthy post workout salad were custom made in a shopping mall. That’s far fetched for sure but that’s the kind of disconnect that exists between India and Team India.
Then again, why are we complaining? Kohli’s post match analysis of the team’s shortcomings reeks of arrogance and misplaced understanding as well, both attributes being self-serving. One can only glean from this that the rot of conscience and consciousness runs deeper, much more than the scope of those tweets that created quite a stir last week.
1-0 England. The boys played well, indeed.
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