By Sudeep Sonawane
New Delhi, June 26, 2021.
Saying India lost the World Test Championship (WTC) final because of selecting unsuitable players would belittle New Zealand team’s good performance.
Kane Williamson’s men deserved to win the Test championship title. They dominated the final despite losing more than a day because of heavy rain.
New Zealand fast bowlers, led by Kyle Jamieson, Southee and Boult dominated Indian batsmen. Most batters, barring Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara, despite not scoring many runs, could not counter the swinging ball. Southee and Co used the overcast condition well.
Indian fast bowlers failed miserably. Mohammed Shami slightly redeemed the bowling unit. His express pace and length earned him wickets in the first innings. Ishant was below average. Bumrah was a misfit on this pitch and such weather. Barring a few deliveries, the trio could not trouble Conway, Williamson and Taylor. These three Kiwis along with useful contributions from others ensured they secured first innings lead.
India was defensive after conceding the lead. A lead of 32 runs looks meagre, but significant in the low-scoring contest which New Zealand won comfortably on the sixth day.
While New Zealand savours this victory, this defeat will rankle Indians. India lost this Test even before it started. How? Bad team selection! The selectors, the coach Ravi Shastri and captain Kohli must accept they were either arrogant or complete duffers in opting for bowlers like Ishant and Bumrah who hit the deck and do not swing the ball.
India needed swing bowlers like Bhuvaneshwar Kumar. Even Shardul Thakur and Mohammed Siraj would have been a better choice. They are riding a confidence wave after their performances in Australia. One can trust Indian selectors to play safe and not take bold decisions. Indians worry about player ego and reputation. How can anyone drop Ishant for a rookie like Siraj or Thakur?
Even Sunil Gavaskar said Kumar should have been in the team, but this is ‘expert wisdom’ post event. Sanjay Manjrekar, one my favourite commentators, is right in saying, “Picking two spinners was always a debatable selection especially when the conditions were overcast and the toss was delayed by a day.”
The selectors and Kohli are the culprits. Shastri has no say. When Kohli opens his mouth everybody, including his rivals and umpires on the field, retreats! Despite his exploits as a batsman in all formats of the game, Kohli is not the best man to lead India – at least in Tests.
Kohli’s fans and well-wishers may squirt his impressive statistics, but remember there are ten other players in the team. A captain often does nothing except applauding when his bowlers take wickets in a heap and batsmen score centuries.
On many occasions in the past Kohli only applauded while his batters and bowlers excelled. The moment Kohli faces a challenge, like the one at The Rose Bowl in Southampton, he loses his vitriolic exuberance, energy, and the plot. Although Test and T20 is a comparison of oranges and eggs, Kohli is yet to lead Royal Challengers Bangalore to an IPL title after almost a decade of leading the team.
Amid this pusillanimity of protecting star reputations, India misses winning important titles. Worse, Ajinkya Rahane, the best man to lead India in Tests watches Kohli’s blunders standing in the slips!