Virat Kohli's reactionary captaincy costs India big time in series against England

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Kohli's captaincy has left plenty to be desired.

Virat Kohli’s reputation as a Test batsman could not be greater than it is now after a stellar individual display in the ongoing series against England.

With 593 runs in nine innings at an average of nearly 66, Kohli has well and truly overcome the ghosts of his disastrous 2014 tour which saw him average a measly 13.40 with the bat. However, while Kohli the batsman might have conquered his final frontier, his captaincy has left plenty to be desired.

The 3-1 scoreline to England does not entirely reflect how well India and Kohli have fought in the series but at key moments the skipper and the team have been found wanting.

The rub of the green might have gone against the India skipper in all five tosses in the series but that alone has not been responsible for India’s woes. If there is one word to define Kohli’s captaincy for much of the summer, it is ‘reactionary’.

After an unprecedented heat wave in the UK, the signs were there that spinners could play in the first Test at Edgbaston. Still, Kohli resisted the temptation to play two spinners as England went on to claim a narrow victory. India’s sole spinner Ravichandran Ashwin was a threat throughout the match, leaving Kohli to mull over what could have been.

As if to make amends for that slight error in judgment, Kohli went in with win two spinners in the next Test at Lord’s where a green top ensured that India technically folded inside two days with young Kuldeep Yadav’s confidence taking an almighty beating.

Kohli's reactionary decisions have helped England.

Kohli’s reactionary decisions have helped England.

In the third Test at Trent Bridge, Ashwin injured himself while attempting a quick single but Kohli still opted to persist with him in the following match at Southampton. That the off-spinner was not fully fit was clear to see from his insipid display even as Moeen Ali spun England to victory with a nine-wicket haul.

Those reactionary decisions have cost India big time but they aren’t the only areas where Kohli’s captaincy has failed. Thrice at least the hosts have fought back from perilous circumstances with their tail coming to the rescue each time. At Edgbaston, they were 87-7 in the second innings with a slim overall lead before Sam Curran (63) performed a heroic rearguard action to take them to 180.

In that innings, Ashwin had been breathing fire with the ball before Curran arrived at the crease but was promptly taken off the attack after the England youngster hit him for a boundary and a six in the same over.

The script was repeated in the fourth Test at the Ageas Bowl with England at 86-6 in the first innings before Curran (78) came to the rescue once again to take them to 246 eventually. In the second innings too, the hosts fought back from 122-5 to post 271 with Curran (46) and Jos Buttler (69) coming to the fore.

Kohli's field settings at times have been inexplicable.

Kohli’s field settings at times have been inexplicable.

In such situations where the tail has bailed England out, one notable aspect of Kohli’s captaincy inadequacies has been his reluctance to bring up the field for the set batsman in the final delivery of the over. That baffling approach has seen the likes of Buttler and Curran prosper by pinching easy singles off the last ball to keep the strike.

In the ongoing final Test at the Oval, the hosts were once again on the ropes in the first innings with their score at 181-7. It was Buttler this time who performed the rescue act with a counter-attacking 89 with Stuart Broad (38) providing him able support. In their partnership too, Kohli bafflingly allowed Buttler to comfortably rotate the strike with his defensive field settings.

For all the aggression that Kohli displays in his batting and in his general on-field demenour, his field placements at times have been anything but.

There will be plenty of questions team India will have to answer when the series eventually draws to a close. One of them definitely needs to be about Kohli’s captaincy.

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Door closing on Murali Vijay's Test career after Prithvi Shaw's India selection

Ashish Peter 24/08/2018
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The end of the road seems near for Murali Vijay.

As Prithvi Shaw was handed his maiden Test call up for India, the career of senior opening batsman Murali Vijay reached a crossroads.

Dropped unceremoniously from the playing XI in the third Test against England at Trent Bridge, Vijay was dealt another blow when he was axed from the squad for the final two Tests.

It has been a tumultuous few weeks for the opener who arrived on English shores as the most established of the three opening batsmen in the Indian squad.

Now, he leaves the country having seen Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul move up the pecking order with young Shaw knocking on the door.

Times have changed dramatically for the 34-year-old who was India’s top-scorer the last time they played a Test in Trent Bridge. On that occasion in 2014, the right-handed batsman had starred with innings of 146 and 52 in a drawn match.

England wasn’t kind to the Tamil Nadu batsman this time around with scores of 20 and six at Birmingham being followed by a pair at Lord’s.

What makes Vijay’s failures in English conditions difficult to digest is that he is one of the few top-order batsmen whose game is suited for challenging conditions outside Asia.

His innings of 97 at Durban in 2013, his ton at Trent Bridge and a 99 at Adelaide in 2014 had cemented his status as one of India’s better overseas batsmen. But of late, runs outside India have dried up.

That he has been axed from the squad after registering four Test tons in 2017 might seem harsh but his performances away from India have been declining for some time now.

Vijay has been at sea against the moving ball in England this time.

Vijay has been at sea against the moving ball in England this time.

Vijay’s last half-century away from home came all the way back in August, 2015 during India’s tour of Sri Lanka. Since then, India have toured the West Indies and South Africa before arriving for their current engagements in England. It was in the tour of South Africa that Vijay’s problems became acute.

His ability to leave well outside the off-stump had been his biggest strength on previous tours. But, against the Proteas, that assurance was missing as Vijay succumbed to one low score after another. His innings of 25 off 127 balls in Johannesburg was his only solid innings in the entire tour and that diffidence was evident in the two Tests he played against England.

The opener still remains a force in home conditions as his century in the one-off Test against Afghanistan this year showed. But with Dhawan and Rahul being the more aggressive batsmen, it is unlikely that Virat Kohli and the team management will turn to Vijay.

Vijay bagged a pair in the Lord's Test.

Vijay bagged a pair in the Lord’s Test.

At 34 years of age, time is not Vijay’s friend. India’s next major overseas assignment is against Australia at the end of the year. The last time India toured Australia in 2014-15, Vijay slammed one ton and four half-centuries. This time, chances are he will not even be on the plane unless Dhawan and Rahul fail miserably in the remaining two Tests against the hosts.

Few Indian players have managed to force their way back into the Test side so late in their career. Sourav Ganguly’s return to the side in 2006 following his public run-in with Greg Chappell in the previous year springs to mind but the former India skipper had a lot more going for him than Vijay does currently.

Cheteshwar Pujara also struggled during the tours of South Africa and England but his innings of 72 at Trent Bridge has secured his spot for some time.

Perhaps it is Shaw’s emergence along with Vijay’s age that has convinced Kohli and the selectors to cut the senior opener adrift. For now, it looks like the end of the road for Vijay. It’s up to him to fight his way back.

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Virat Kohli's relentless drive to be the best setting him apart from the rest

Ashish Peter 21/08/2018
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Virat Kohli continues to touch new heights.

Virat Kohli conquers new frontiers with almost every passing series, but his performances in England finally bear testament to his true greatness.

The India skipper notched up his second Test ton of the series and 23rd overall on day three at Trent Bridge as he put his side in a commanding position.

The 29-year-old has well and truly banished his demons from the 2014 tour of the country where he mustered only 134 runs in 10 innings.

After his latest display at Trent Bridge, he now has 440 runs in six innings in the series at an average over 73. For reference, the second highest run-scorer in the series is England’s Jonny Bairstow with 206 runs while the next best Indian batsman is Hardik Pandya with 160 runs.

After the completion of the Trent Bridge Test, the India man is poised to once again overtake Australia’s Steve Smith and take the top spot in the ICC rankings for batsmen.

21 08 Kohli

Following India’s 2014 tour of England, question marks remained over Kohli’s Test credentials even though the world had started to accept his greatness in the limited-overs formats.

Since that series though, there has been a sea of change in Kohli’s approach in the five-day format. When the 2014 series ended, Kohli had six Test tons to his name from 29 matches. In comparison, Joe Root had five tons to his name from 22 matches at the same point.

Now, four years later, Kohli has notched up another 17 centuries in the 40 matches to follow. Root, meanwhile, has only been able to add eight more tons to his name in the 50 matches he has played since.

In this period, Kohli was the second highest run-getter behind Smith in India’s 2014-15 tour of Australia with 692 runs, the highest scorer in the side’s 2018 tour of South Africa with 292 runs and is on course to finish as the highest run-getter in England.

It is Kohli’s relentless drive to be the very best that has set him apart from the rest of the pack. Always seeking for ways to constantly improve himself and push new barriers, the batsman has left no stone unturned in his quest for greatness.

It all started with Kohli’s disappointing campaign for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the 2012 IPL. Bogged down by his own poor performance, the Delhi-born man drastically changed his training regime in order to become fitter.

“My training was horrible, I ate so bad, I was up until late, I was having a drink or two regularly. It was a horrible mindset. The season ended and I was so thankful it was over. I went home, came out of the shower one day and looked at myself in the mirror and said, you can’t look like this if you want to be a professional cricketer,” Kohli had told Telegraph India.

Kohli follows the most rigorous of fitness regimes.

Kohli follows the most rigorous of fitness regimes.

Now, he is undoubtedly one of the fittest cricketers in the world and a supreme athlete.

In the 2014 series in England, his susceptibility around the off-stump was horribly exposed by James Anderson. That he looks much more assured in that area in the current series is another example of his willingness to constantly improve.

When he returned from England in 2014, Kohli conducted a one-on-one nets session with his idol Sachin Tendulkar in Mumbai in order to identify his flaws. He changed his batting stance and has reaped the rewards in the overseas tours to follow.

There is nothing more gratifying as a fan than to see a sportsman with extreme dedication to his craft reap the fruits of his labour. That is exactly what Kohli is doing currently and we are indeed privileged to watch him as he continues his march to greatness.

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