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Why India needs Ravi Shastri and Virat Kohli to be more than just good motivators

Planning, preparation, and strategy are more important and it is high time they pick up the slack in these departments.

 |  4-minute read |   24-08-2018
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One innings and 159 runs. That was the margin of defeat at Lord’s.

England averaged almost five times more with the bat than India in the match. This wasn’t a home series, nor was it a competitive match like the ones India lost in South Africa earlier in the year. The India we’ve always known would’ve surrendered even before taking the field in the third Test. Many, including this author, felt that a 5-0 whitewash was not just a possibility, but a probability.

If you’re a genuine well-wisher of Indian cricket, this would not have been the worst thing. Such a huge loss would’ve ensured that heads rolled. The BCCI would wake up from its deep slumber and would, perhaps, rectify its management style. The team’s leadership too, would hopefully see a course-correction.

But that wasn’t to be.

When MS Dhoni was the captain and Duncan Fletcher the coach, India had two circumspect realists at the helm of things. Two similar personalities as captain and coach, however, did not make a good combination, and this resulted in the team being unable to get out of the doldrums. When their confidence was low, it was hard to get it back. Dhoni was a good tactician in some respects, but he wasn’t the guy who could instil confidence in a team that desperately needed it. Most of India’s overseas tours under him post-2010 are evidence of that.

dhonifletcher_082318092628.jpgMS Dhoni and Duncan Fletcher — two circumspect realists don't necessarily make a good combination. (Photo: Reuters)

In Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri, however, India once again had two very similar personalities in charge, despite the duo being the antithesis of Dhoni-Fletcher. They’re great motivators who know how to put the “pep” in “pep-talk”. Their animated natures and fiery words are what a team, down in the dumps, needs to hear to lift itself into a positive mental space and play with confidence. This is exactly the kind of thing that won India the Trent Bridge Test by a whopping margin of 203 runs.

But is that enough?

Is good leadership in cricket solely about confidence boosting? While we laud India’s comeback win after being 2-0 down, we must not forget why India was 2-0 down in the first place. It was because of the arrogance and stubbornness that has come to define the Kohli-Shastri duo.

In South Africa, one could easily blame the BCCI for a packed schedule that allowed no room for getting used to the conditions. Perhaps one can still partly blame the board for not ensuring a cleaner calendar just before the current series began.

But the rest of the blame has to fall squarely on the team leadership’s shoulders.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar was nursing an injury, but instead of giving him more time to recover, he was needlessly played in an ODI which ensured that he was out for the entire Test series. Murali Vijay is now a shadow of his former technically correct self, but no effort was made to give him some extra time in English conditions through county cricket or to find a replacement for him.

kohlishastri_082318092229.jpgBoth Shastri and Kohli need to learn that being good at motivating a team is important, but it should not be their sole focus. (Photo: PTI)

Shikhar Dhawan, who proves, in virtually every overseas tour, that he just doesn’t have the technique to open in Test cricket, was selected again. Pujara was sidelined, Rahane and Rahul weren’t given more game-time to get back into Test form, Shami’s consistency issues weren’t worked on, and Kuldeep was selected in the playing 11 at Lord’s for literally no logical reason.

In South Africa, the series was done and dusted before India could get used to the conditions. All they had left to play for was pride, which they salvaged in Johannesburg. A thumping win in the ODI and T20 series that followed made everyone forget the Test series loss and believe that this Indian team had what it takes to come back. We were so swept up with the 5-1 score in the ODIs that we forgot the 2-1 loss in Tests.

A less emotional and more logical perspective might make one realise that a Test series loss cannot be compensated for with an ODI or T20 series win. Test cricket requires a completely different skill-set, and it is naive to assume that a team has “lifted” itself from a Test series defeat based on their performance in “white-ball” cricket. Kohli and Shastri should have addressed some problems for the next overseas tour, which they didn’t. The only thing working in their favour is that this is a five-Test series, and there is still a chance to avoid a series defeat.

India plays five-Test series against only one opposition. They mostly play two- or three-Test series, so the Kohli-Shastri modus operandi of not preparing properly and using the first two Test matches in a series as warm-up games and then picking themselves up in the third isn’t going to work.

Being good at motivating the team is important, but not the sole focus of leadership in cricket. Planning, preparation, and strategy are more important and, if the duo is really serious about wanting to win overseas, it is high time they pick up the slack in these departments.

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