Has Kohli erred again?

India's captain Virat Kohli. AFP

Newlands, Centurion, Lord’s, Edgbaston and now Optus. These are the venues – and this year alone -- where the Indian team management (skipper Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri) have read the conditions wrong and picked the wrong personnel for the job, only to regret later or defend their choices without justification.

In both Cape Town and Centurion, they persisted with Rohit Sharma while benching the more accomplished Ajinkya Rahane, only to see the former flunk his opportunities in both Tests as India lost the series before the third and final game in Johannesburg. At the Wanderers, Rahane struck 42 on a spiteful surface where the highest team total was 247. India won by 63 runs and salvaged some pride. But it didn’t seem as if they had learnt their lessons.

At Edgbaston in the first Test against England, they left out Cheteshwar Pujara and lost the match by 31 runs in a chase of 194 on the difficult fourth-day pitch. At Lord’s in the second Test, despite the first day being washed out without the toss taking place, they went ahead with their pre-set plan of playing two spinners in R Ashwin and Kuldeep Yadav, in place of Umesh Yadav, and paid the price for being rigid with their thinking. In overcast conditions, the spinners were rendered ineffective and the two pacers and pace-bowling all-rounder Hardik Pandya proved inadequate to trouble the English batsmen. The hosts took a 2-0 lead after an innings win.

Cut to the present, and a similar situation stares them in the face unless they find a way to get out of the deep hole they have dug themselves into. The pitch for the second Test was laden with grass and all the pre-match talk here was how it’s going to be the bounciest, paciest deck ever. It might have looked tempting to go with an all-pace attack but if the pitch was going to be that spicy, then the question that begs to be answered is why do you need four fast bowlers to the job? Three pacers would have been enough, like in Adelaide, on a reputedly responsive strip. And if it were to turn out any different to what had been predicted, as it happened on the day, you would have had your bases covered with a spinner who, in all likelihood, India are going to miss.

Already, Hanuma Vihari has shown how the extra bounce on this pitch could be decisive and with someone like Nathan Lyon -- who thrives on bounce like any Aussie spinner -- in the rival dugout, India will hope they are not left to rue their decision again. Besides the spin option, Jadeja would have also provided depth to the batting. In his absence, the tail starts at eight, with Rishabh Pant still unreliable at seven. It would have made sense for India to opt for four pacers if someone like Pandya was available. He could have met the demands of both batting and bowling but in his absence, they should have been dynamic with their plans.

 

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Has Kohli erred again?

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