Virat Kohli and India paying the price for skimping on tour preparations

Ashish Peter 14/08/2018
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The Indian team management have shot themselves in the foot.

Just two Tests into the five-match series against England, the picture is already looking bleak for team India and skipper Virat Kohli.

Their meek surrender by an innings at Lord’s following their 31-run loss at Edgbaston has left the visitors with a mountain to climb in the remainder of the Test series.

This wasn’t how it was meant to be. Ever since their ascension to the No1 ranked Test outfit following an impressive home record, all eyes have been on how India perform in their tougher overseas tours of the likes of South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia (SENA).

After India showed some promise in a hard-fought 1-2 defeat in South Africa earlier this year, optimism was abound ahead of their Test series in England. After just two Tests, all that optimism has vanished already and instead been replaced with a familiar sense of doom and gloom in tough overseas tours.

It has been a collective failure from the batsmen which has been the feature of the Indian team so far in the Test series. As all eyes now turn towards the third Test at Trent Bridge which gets underway on August 18, tough questions need to be asked of Kohli and his men.

The most burning question of them all pertains to India’s ill-thought out preparations for such tours. When the team toured South Africa at the start of the year, they bafflingly went into the first Test without playing a single warm-up match to prepare themselves for the three-match series.

Just like in Edgbaston, a defeat that very well could have been a victory ensued in the first Test at Cape Town. One would have thought that the Indian team management would have learned their lessons from that debacle when the itinerary for the England tour was drawn up.

India opted to play just one warm-up game ahead of the Tests.

India opted to play just one warm-up game ahead of the Tests.

However, the fact that the ODI and T20I series preceded the five Tests seems to have been enough preparations for the visitors who opted to play only one red-ball warm-up game against Essex. That four-day game was ultimately shortened to three days at the insistence of the Indian team management.

In contrast, Pakistan had played two warm-up games against Kent and Northampton when they came calling to England for a two-Test series earlier this summer. That was on the back of a historic one-off Test against Ireland at Dublin. Suffice to say, Sarfraz Ahmed’s men were much better prepared for the Test series which the ultimately ended up drawing at 1-1.

The difference in approaches from the two teams was stark. While Pakistan reaped the fruits of prioritizing the warm-up red-ball games, India are paying dearly for their sheer overconfidence.

To bank on the idea that the three ODIs and as many T20Is would have put the team in great stead for a five-match Test series is laughable to say the least if not downright foolish. The visitors are now realising the hard way that the limited-overs clashes are a world away from the five-day format and they have no one but themselves to blame.

India have always been notoriously poor travelers but despite that, there seems to be no change in their approach when it comes to preparations for these tours. They only have to look to the Australian team and their preparations for the 2017 tour of India for a blueprint on tackling tough overseas sojourns.

Kohli and Shastri have only themselves to blame.

Kohli and Shastri have only themselves to blame.

Having been embarrassingly whitewashed 0-3 in Sri Lanka a year before, Steve Smith and his Australia side left no stone unturned ahead of the four-match series against India. The team conducted a hot-weather training camp in the UAE prior to flying to India as they looked to come to terms with the spinning pitches in the subcontinent.

The Aussies ultimately ended up giving a huge scare to the Indian team before narrowly losing the Test series 2-1.

Kohli has always talked about the importance of setting India’s overseas record right but his and team management’s actions have not matched that ambition. Before the start of the Lord’s Test, the India skipper spoke about how the problems plaguing his batsmen are more ‘mental’ rather than technical deficiencies.

Had there been more thought put into the preparations for the series, his batsmen could well have been afforded more time to make those ‘mental adjustments’. Now, Kohli and his men have become the first subcontinent team to lose a Test at Lord’s since their own loss in the tour of 2011 and they only need to look inwards to know the reason why.

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James Anderson and a perfect storm at Lord's cruelly exposes Indian batsmen

Ashish Peter 11/08/2018
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Anderson was on fire at Lord's as India struggled to cope with his swing.

At the end of a tumultuous day in which James Anderson moved to within one wicket of a 100 dismissals at Lord’s, India would have been left wondering what hit them.

The build-up to the second Test between England and India at Lord’s had been surrounded with talks of whether India would play a second spinner in the line-up.

After all, Ravichandran Ashwin had made the England batsmen sing to his tune in the first Test at Edgbaston while the ongoing heat wave in the UK was showing no signs of relenting.

Come the first day at Lord’s, the heavens opened up over London as the heat wave made way for the customary English summer rains.

That allowed both captains to keep their cards close to their chests when it came to naming the playing XIs for the Test.

The second day, which was originally forecast to be the best day weather-wise, brought with it some more rains as a delayed start ensued.

Despite the onset of the rains, India skipper Virat Kohli chose to go with two spinners with Kuldeep Yadav replacing pacer Umesh Yadav in the playing XI.

What followed was the stuff of nightmares for the visitors as once again, Kohli’s luck deserted him at the toss with Joe Root having no hesitation in having a bowl first in overcast conditions.

The stage had been set for one of Lord’s favourite performers James Anderson.

With the skies wearing a ominous grey look and a bright red Duke ball in hand, there is perhaps no graver sight for a batsman in England than to see Anderson steaming up the slope at the iconic cricket ground.

Murali Vijay could only watch in disbelief as his off-stump went for a toss.

Murali Vijay could only watch in disbelief as his off-stump went for a toss.

He got to work straight away as he brought the packed house at Lord’s to its feet with only the fifth delivery of the day.

A flabbergasted Murali Vijay could only look on in disbelief as a gem of a late out-swinger took out his off-stump.

The tone had been set for what was to follow as India’s worst fears were about to come true.

Kohli had been at pains to mention that the shortcomings displayed by India’s batsmen at Edgbaston had been more on the ‘mental’ side rather than technical.

Based on the 35 odd overs that were bowled on Friday, the Indian skipper could very well have been bluffing rather than being serious.

For England’s pacers were absolutely unrelenting as they kept pegging away at the ever-dangerous line just outside off-stump which has been Anderson’s bread and butter since he was a toddler.

The techniques of the batsmen, including Kohli’s himself, were cruelly exposed as edges kept flying towards the slip cordon.

England kept landing the ball in the sweet spot and India’s batsman kept erring with each passing swipe.

Cheteshwar Pujara resisted the English attack briefly on his Test return but his run-out woes came back to haunt him and render his 25-ball stay at the crease effectively meaningless.

Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane too put up a brief resistance before being sucked in towards poking at inviting deliveries outside the off stump. They took the bait and paid the ultimate price.

Kohli's tendency to poke outside the off-stump came back to bite him.

Kohli’s tendency to poke outside the off-stump came back to bite him.

That Ashwin ended up as the top-scorer tells you all you need to know about the sorry state that is India’s batting.

The mantra for England’s pacers had been simple – keep pegging away at the off-stump and let India’s technical shortcomings rear its ugly head.

Now, after effectively just a session and a half of actual play in the Test, India are staring down the barrel and have been left with a mammoth mountain to climb.

To add insult to their injury, they will now have the services of just two specialist pacers and Hardik Pandya on a pitch where England spinner Adil Rashid could very well have stayed back at Yorkshire without his absence even registering.

It was a perfect storm and a dash of James Anderson that hit India with full force on Friday.

The script will be complete on Saturday should the sun come out and give England the perfect batting conditions to further deepen India’s misery.

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India need the real Ajinkya Rahane to stand up at Lord's after a poor run of form

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Ajinkya Rahane's loss of form is a big worry for India.

As a visibly dejected Virat Kohli walked off the field following India’s 31-run loss to England at Edgbaston, a million questions would have been forming in his mind.

The foremost of them would have been the inability of the rest of the India batting line-up to stand up to the task. Of the 446 total runs scored by India in the two innings at Edgbaston, Kohli himself had accounted for 200 of them.

Only one other India batsman in Hardik Pandya (52) managed to surpass a combined 50 runs in both innings. While the collective failure of the batting unit stood out like a sore thumb, the below-par performances of Ajinkya Rahane and Murali Vijay were the major causes for India’s downfall.

The two, especially Rahane, have been India’s stalwarts many a time on their overseas sojourns in recent years. Rahane, in particular, has been the rock on which many of India’s rare overseas triumphs have been built upon.

However, the Mumbai batsman has hit a lean patch of form never previously seen in his career. The right-hander was dismissed for scores of 15 and two in the two innings at Edgbaston. More than the quantity of Rahane’s runs, it was the manner of his dismissals which left much to be desired.

In the first innings, he failed to deal with the extra bounce generated by England all-rounder Ben Stokes as he stabbed a rising delivery straight into the hands of third slip. In the second, he chased a rank short-pitched delivery way outside off-stump only to under-edge it into the wicketkeeper’s hands.

To see a batsman who is generally considered to be India’s most dependable overseas Test batsman get dismissed in such fashion raises plenty of eyebrows.

Rahane's confidence seems to be at an all-time low.

Rahane’s confidence seems to be at an all-time low.

Those were the signs of a batsman who is clearly struggling with confidence and self-belief at the moment. His dismissal for just two in the second innings means that the Indian stalwart has now gone 11 innings without registering a single half-century.

The India vice-captain has been on a downward spiral ever since his innings of 188 against New Zealand in Indore during October 2016.

Since then, he has scored only 701 runs in 28 innings at a measly average of 26.96. No matter how much you want to sugarcoat those figures, they are not the numbers one would expect from a batsman of Rahane’s talents.

In this period, the only ton that the 30-year-old registered came against Sri Lanka at Colombo last year. In fact, his record gets even worse after that knock of 133, with his next 11 innings fetching only 118 runs at an average of just 10.72.

Kohli will want from his deputy in the coming Tests.

Kohli will want more from his deputy in the coming Tests.

For a man who used to average more than 50 until much of 2016, the downturn has been notable to say the least.

The right-hander’s confidence was at a new low after Sri Lanka’s tour of India in late 2017. In the three-match series, Rahane could only manage a pitiful 17 runs in five innings at an average less than the runs a single boundary fetches.

That he was then not picked for the first two Tests in India’s tour of South Africa earlier this year would not have done any favours to his already diminished confidence. Rahane could only watch from the sidelines even as limited-overs specialist Rohit Sharma was picked ahead of him.

When he did finally get his chance in the final Test at Johannesburg, the India middle-order batsman struck a vital 48 in the second innings as Virat Kohli’s men scripted a famous victory.

Quite simply, Rahane has been a vital cog in whatever overseas success India have garnered over the past four years or so. His notable lack of form currently does not bode well for the visitors in the remainder of the five-match series.

While Kohli currently appears like a man possessed on a single-minded mission to set right his record on English soil and continue his march towards greatness, India will still need another batsman to at least chip in with some handy contributions if they are to have any chance in the series.

They will hope that batsman is Rahane, for he has done it many times previously. Kohli will want his deputy to shoulder some of the batting responsibility and he will be hoping that the venue of the second Test can give Rahane the necessary boost in confidence he so desperately needs.

It was at Lord’s in 2014 that Rahane scored perhaps the best of his nine Test tons so far. His masterful 104 had been the catalyst for India’s thrilling 95-run win and Kohli and his men could do with more of the same this time as they seek to get back on level terms in the series.

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