Time to draw curtains on Virat Kohli-Ravi Shastri 'friendship club'

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Defeats are part of professional sport. India lost the three-Test series 2-1 in South Africa earlier in the year but most Indian fans were proud of that result as it was some of the highest quality of cricket played by any Indian team away from home on a sustained basis.

But what the Indian team – No1 in Test rankings – did in the second match at Lord’s was unacceptable to the point of being revolting. As clinical as England were, losing a Test inside effectively two days is not acceptable for any decent Test side, forget a top-ranked team.

It’s time for some serious changes and it has to start right at the top. Not with Virat Kohli, but Ravi Shastri.

The current India coach lost out to Anil Kumble when interviews were held for the post in 2016. It was bold decision by the Indian management – led by Cricket Advisory Committee of Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly – which saw a period of new guidelines for team selection and strict adherence to discipline.

India registered Test series wins at home against England (4-0), New Zealand (3-0) and Australia (2-1). But one year down the line, reports of rift between Kohli and Kumble surfaced. Apparently, the entire BCCI machinery failed to broker peace and Kumble left his post after India lost the Champions Trophy final to Pakistan last year.

Shastri, who has already developed a great rapport with Kohli as team director before losing the job to Kumble, came right back in 2017 and the Indian dressing room relaxed. And by what we saw in England, maybe a bit too relaxed.

It is true coaches at the international level are more man-managers than anything else. But it is also their job to be an authority figure, especially if the team is young, and step in if the side is losing its way.

Unfortunately, Shastri does not come across as a person who will crack the whip and make the players pull up their socks. This Indian team begins and ends at Kohli, be it batting, leadership or team selection.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar was dropped in South Africa for the second Test despite taking six wickets in the first and scoring runs.

Then in the ongoing series in England, India went in one spinner short in Birmingham even as the wicket promised and ultimately provided help to spinners. In the second Test at Lord’s, they selected Kuldeep Yadav despite heavy rain and ended up one seamer short and were forced to hide two spinners – Ravi Ashwin and Kuldeep.

Virat Kohli and former coach Anil Kumble.

Virat Kohli and former coach Anil Kumble.

What’s more, the Indian team took five days off before the start of the five-Test series in England. Not only that, the Indians had just one truncated warm-up game before the first Test. That the batsmen were clueless against the moving ball therefore didn’t come as a surprise.

It’s all well and good to say the right things and help those around you relax. But as an international coach, it is important to be able to pull the handbrake when the team bus is going off the road. Shastri is not that guy.

Someone like Kumble would not have allowed some of the selection decisions taken in the past year. And he would definitely not have given five days off before a five-Test series in England. The players need to be relaxed, but not at the expense of losing their edge or focus.

Kohli is an exemplary player and motivator, but even he is susceptible to mistakes. It’s high time the BCCI realises that it is important to have another authoritative figure in the dressing room. The players, and Kohli, might feel uncomfortable but they have brought it upon themselves by losing inside two days in London.

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Rishabh Pant, Karun Nair and other batsmen who can bolster India in England

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Rishabh Pant (l) and Karun Nair.

India were crushed by an innings and 159 runs in the second Test against England at Lord’s. India not only went 2-0 down in the series but attracted severe criticism as they effectively lost inside two days.

India’s batsmen failed to bat even 50 overs in either innings with off-spinner Ravi Ashwin top-scoring in both innings. Their batsmen are under pressure to deliver, but the team can’t wait forever.

Here we take a look at the batsmen who can be brought into the playing XI over the next three Tests.

KARUN NAIR

The Karnataka batter has the unfortunate record of getting dropped after scoring a Test triple century. Nair replaced an injured Ajinkya Rahane towards the end of the five-Test series at home against England in 2016 and smashed a triple ton. But he had to make way for Rahane as soon as he became fit for the next Test against Bangladesh. But when he did get another chance, Nair’s top score was just 26 from four Test innings. Even so, he averages 51 in first-class cricket over five years and quite frankly, he can’t be much worse than the current lot.

RISHABH PANT

The Delhi wicket-keeper batsman is the next big thing in Indian cricket. Pant averages nearly 55 from 23 first-class matches and scored three fifties in four innings during the recent first-class tour of England with the India ‘A’ team. Many fans want to see him as India’s gloveman at some juncture during the next three Tests. With Dinesh Karthik’s horror show so far, Pant stands a good chance of making his Test debut.

MAYANK AGARWAL

Consistently one of the best batsmen in India’s domestic circuit. Amassed more than 2,000 runs for his state Karnataka in the 2017/18 season. And he recently scored a double century against South Africa ‘A’ in Bengaluru. Was part of the India ‘A’ team in England and scored three List A centuries. Deserves a chance at the highest level.

Opening batsman Prithvi Shaw.

Opening batsman Prithvi Shaw.

PRITHVI SHAW

One of the most exciting talents to emerge on India’s batting horizon. Led the India U-19 side to the World Cup title earlier in the year. Since his first-class debut in 2017, has hit seven centuries in 14 matches. However, can be flashy outside the of-stump but he opens the batting, which means it’s a technique that works for him.

SHREYAS IYER

The runs have dried up for the Mumbai batsman but he has been earmarked as a potential star. Iyer averages 53 after almost 50 first-class matches but failed during the white-ball leg of India ‘A’ tour of England in June. Hasn’t had a big score in three months, which does not inspire confidence. Still, one of the best among the young crop.

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What India need to do to salvage Test series against England

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Virat Kohli openly admitted his disappointment at India's Lord's showing.

India have it all to do to fight their way back into the Test series after England went 2-0 up with a resounding win by an innings and 159 runs at Lord’s.

On paper, the odds are stacked against the tourists to launch a comeback but there are still three Tests to play, with the third match starting at Trent Bridge this Saturday.

Despite the doom and gloom, there is light at the end of tunnel and here we look at what the No1-ranked Test side need to do to salvage the tour.

Are India giving it all they have?

Opening batsman great Virender Sehwag led the criticism on Twitter following the harrowing Lord’s loss, accusing India of lacking fight.

England’s bowling attack, led by James Anderson, was always going to be challenging for any side in swinging and seaming London conditions. But still, Virat Kohli’s team did not show any steel to make a match of it.

The tourists batted for just 35.2 overs in the first innings and 47 in the second, effectively losing the match within two days.

Throughout the contest, there was an inevitability about India’s wickets tumbling and, but for the weather, they would have folded even sooner.

Whether or not it is right to question the character of the team is perhaps down to former greats to chip in and have their say. But what we do know is India need to grit their teeth and somehow pull together as a unit. That, though, is easier said than done when you’re 2-0 down and the tour is starting to unravel. This is a true test of Kohli’s leadership.

Selection gamble

You’re always a better player when you’re out of the team, as the cliche goes, but there is plenty of truth in that for India. Key pacemen Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have missed the series so far through injury while first-choice wicket-keeper batsman Wriddhiman Saha has also been a big absentee. England may have their own issues with Ben Stokes but there is no doubt India entered this series with far more depleted ranks.

While India’s wickets were tumbling with alarmingly regularity at Lord’s, Bumrah was running in hard in the Nursery Ground nets. The 24-year-old has been fighting his way back after a thumb injury and although he might not be cricket fit in terms of overs under his belt, India should take the wildcard option and include him for the Trent Bridge match.

The Mumbai Indians star has remarkably only played three Tests but his international career has blossomed early on and he brings a mixture of pace, variation and the ability to move the ball off the deck. Spinner Kuldeep Yadav should make way for him while Kumar’s fitness is also touch-and-go, given he has been recovering from a back injury in his homeland. Making the sole fast bowling change can help lift this side.

Conditions favour seam and swing in Nottingham and would certainly aid Bumrah, while Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma have, at times, bowled very well during the series so far without getting the rewards.

Batting-wise, India may be wise to stick with what they’ve got and see if their top-order has the riposte to stand up and be counted. It can’t just be down to Kohli. Moving forward, India need clarity over selection, which we did not see at Lord’s after the farce of deciding to play two spinners.

Indian bowler Jasprit Bumrah (R) celebrates the dismissal of South African batsman Lungi Ngidi during the second day of the third test match between South Africa and India at Wanderers cricket ground on January 25, 2018 in Johannesburg. / AFP PHOTO / GIANLUIGI GUERCIA (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)

India could do with Jasprit Bumrah back in the fold.

Time for India’s stars to seek some advice

The beauty of a Test match between two powerhouses like England and India is that there are former greats from both sides present at the ground. More often than not, the majority of ex-stars work in broadcasting and commentate on the series while others are involved in hospitality and corporate ventures, particularly in England.

Pretty much everywhere you look you’ll see a name from yesteryear and players from each side come into constant contact with them, usually before a day’s play when assessing the pitch and the outfield areas, while others, past and present, socialise together after a day’s play.

As such, the wealth of knowledge available to a player today is great, on top of all of the video analysis at their disposal. Some take advantage of having those from yesteryear around by picking their brains for advice while others are quite content in their own bubble and don’t like to speak to pundits, especially if they have been critical of their batting or bowling.

Regardless, Indian greats like Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, to name a few, have been around during the Test series and available for the current generation to chat to. No matter how good you are, there’s no excuse to stop learning and some of India’s batsmen could benefit from taking away a nugget or two about facing the moving ball in England from players that have done it plenty of times before.

Here’s hoping they pick up the phone or go for a coffee between now and the third Test.

CARDIFF, WALES - JULY 06: India legend Sunil Gavaskar looks on during the 2nd Vitality T20 International between England and India at Sophia Gardens on July 6, 2018 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Sunil Gavaskar has been critical of India.

Stopping Jonny Bairstow

James Anderson has the ability to bowl any side out when conditions are in his favour and there is only so much you can do to keep him out, as well as Stuart Broad’s streaky bursts with the ball. Preparation to face the Duke ball is obviously key and India didn’t do enough of it ahead of this series. Even so, there is no excuse for not doing better.

From a bowling perspective, one man they need to be more watchful of is Jonny Bairstow. The wicket-keeper batsman, aside from Joe Root and Anderson, is the next name on the team-sheet. Batting now at No5, he is England’s glue and comfortably their most in-form and fluent batsman. At Lord’s, England were well on the ropes at 89-4 in the first innings after Root had departed but there was Bairstow again, scoring 93 and forming that 189-run sixth-wicket stand with centurion Chris Woakes. When the Yorkshireman is at the crease, he is calm and collected and lifts everyone.

Part of that is due to his infectious, likeable personality but mostly down to his brilliance with the bat. Though he would have been disappointed to miss out on a sixth Test century, India bowled too full and wide – harnessing nowhere near enough short deliveries or variation – lapping up Bairstow’s bread and butter which is driving through the covers and being exceptionally strong on the off-side.

And that, he did, with 38 runs of his knock coming through that region, inclusive of five fours. Bowling tighter lines and attacking him with greater venom first up was needed. India can ill afford for Bairstow to stick around and make vital contributions, with his first innings 70 at Edgbaston being additional proof of that. Get him out early, tuck into Jos Buttler and Sam Curran with some full deliveries and have a go at the lower middle-order before it really has a chance to really wag.

England's Jonny Bairstow (R) plays a shot on the third day of the second Test cricket match between England and India at Lord's Cricket Ground in London on August 11, 2018. (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. NO ASSOCIATION WITH DIRECT COMPETITOR OF SPONSOR, PARTNER, OR SUPPLIER OF THE ECB (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Jonny Bairstow is a fine player for England.

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