“You cannot overlook Virat Kohli’s bravery in including two wrist-spinners in the ODI series. The move was bold and courageous. It was right-in-your-face”.
In a rather strange world, one often finds the Indian Cricket Team being unnecessarily criticised, both in defeats and in victories. It is understandable where the attacks come from when the team ends up on the wrong side of the result, for in a country as passionate and as enthusiastic about cricket as India, discussing tactics and dissing them aside has risen to be the favourite time pass. So, it was but natural that the Indian Team was torn apart when they arrived in South Africa just days before the high-octane Test series was to get underway.
Virat Kohli was left red-faced at a press conference when a journalist kept asking him about his changes in the Test team and fans often wondered what had gotten to him after he constantly kept the technically sound Ajinkya Rahane out of the side. The batsmen were not spared either. Cheteshwar Pujara emerged as a home-track bully and Murali Vijay’s weak play outside the off-stump called for his immediate axing. The coach was called a sitting puppet and suddenly, everything around the national cricket side was analysed and dissected.
As India romped home to a memorable victory at Johannesburg in the third Test it was widely anticipated that the talks against them will die a slow death. But that is how the world of cynicism and negativity works. One moves on from the past topics to unearth another theme of downfall and the cycle begins again.
This time, the pitch was “Indian” like. It was on the slower side and the uneven bounce was unfair. The Indians had still not won in proper “South African” conditions, where the ball swings and seams and where the rib-cage is always under threat of a fracture or damage.
Therefore, it was not very surprising that even after the Indians convincingly won the ODI series 5-1, the talks over a win in “subcontinent-like” conditions started swivelling around. The wickets were not as menacing as one would associate the wickets in South Africa to be and their pacers hardly had the venom. But then to all these “fans”, is that really Kohli’s fault? His job and the team’s job is to perform and perform well in whatever conditions that are given to him. Can you blame him if the wickets in South Africa, or in the world as a whole, are declining and no longer have that same zing? On that basis, why do you go on and on about Steven Smith being the world’s best player, without applying the same crazy “pitches lack the steam” nonsense to him as well?
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The fact of the matter is that the limited overs Indian side thrashed a South African side with full zeal – with conviction and with domination. They did not have AB de Villiers for three games, but he was there for the next three. They did not have Quinton de Kock, but then he hardly was in form coming into the series. Yes, they missed their Captain Faf du Plessis, but it would be hyperbole to suggest that he would have negated the spin threat with full conviction and without any difficulty. They still had Hashim Amla and JP Duminy. They still had Imran Tahir and Lungi Ngidi and Kagiso Rabada and Morne Morkel. It was still South Africa and it was still a high-intensity series that had to be won.
You cannot overlook Virat Kohli’s bravery to play two wrist-spinners in the ODI series. The move was bold and courageous. It was right-in-your-face. Maybe no other captain would have fielded two spinners in South Africa, who were just a few matches old. He had already shown mighty intent earlier; when he had asked Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja to just play the Test matches. For someone who was used to seeing the Indian team push in successful players from one format of the game to another – Stuart Binny, being a very infamous example – the ploy to not pick them both up for the LOIs was in itself a strong statement.
The wrist-spinners would go for runs. They could not be effective. But Kohli backed them. And backed them in a manner that they emerged as the biggest positives for India going ahead. 33 wickets amongst them in the 6 games with a plethora of googlies and variations to go with it ensured that the rivals were caught up in the spin web with no route of escape. They weren’t just the X-factors, they were the biggest factors.
Before we get to the obvious positive from the series, which was, of course, the form of the top three batsmen, one should mention the role that the pacers played throughout the series. They were overshadowed by the two spin-twins, but in their own silent ways, they went about making a mark. They hardly spilt the runs in the first Powerplay. Throughout the series, in all the 6 games, they picked up a wicket in the first ten and bowled crisp, economical spells. The most expensive that any Indian seamer was when Bhuvneshwar Kumar conceded 71 runs in the first game in ten overs.
When Shardul Thakur replaced Bhuvi, who was in desperate need for some rest after playing non-stop since the Tests began, the former too chipped in with 4 wickets. Not only does this portray the bench-strength as a strong one, it also gives off vibes that for a change, the fast bowling department in Indian Cricket is well sorted.
And as far as the top-order batting is concerned, Shikhar Dhawan combined with a what-do-you-call-him Kohli to make a mockery of the fast bowlers. When they had a plan, the duo changed theirs. When Dhawan was cramped for room in his favourite scoring areas, he effortlessly forwent them and switched sides. He made 323 in the six games and just when you wonder, it is insane, wait for Kohli’s numbers to rack up.
558 runs – the most by any player ever in any bilateral series that has been played in the history. He did not have a hundred in the land before he arrived in South Africa, and he goes home with three in just six games!
Once again, however, one can hear the hushed whispers of the “wait for England” remarks. Not surprisingly, if the legend (he can no longer be called a future legend. He is one!) does well, the pitches will be in focus. The waning form of the bowlers will be in focus. Everything will be in focus but for the fact that this Indian team, led by Kohli, oozes out ounces of self-belief and self-confidence, which is ultimately what segregated them from the Proteas side.