Cricket Column: How all-smiles Kohli sought to sweep Oval dirt under ‘just-a-game’ carpet
June 19, 2017 | 4:30 PM
by Prasad Panicker/Beyond the Boundary
Virat Kohli

If you had been busy the whole of Sunday during which you didn’t bother to check out social media or switch on the television, and if it had been all over at The Oval by the time you found yourself in front of the small screen and what remained was the presentation ceremony, and if you hadn’t heard from anyone that India had been handed a crushing defeat by Pakistan, and if you had watched Virat Kohli walking with a smile on his face up to Nasser Hussain for a chat, and if you had been an Indian cricket fan, you would have been tricked into believing for a fraction of a second that India had done it again.

Obviously, the smile on the face was not aimed at covering up the truth or misleading anyone. It was, believe it or not, a natural reflection of the satisfaction that the Indian team “played well to reach the final”. You don’t win every game you play. Whether you smile or cry, you will not be able to change the result.

Former skipper MS Dhoni went philosophical during such moments and talked not about the result but about the process in place, and his successor looked smarter than him in the art of dealing with defeat because, after all, “we have lost only a game of cricket”.

A perfect line had it come from the captain of the Indian hockey team, Manpreet Singh, who led his team on the same Sunday to a 7-1 victory against Pakistan in the Hockey World League Semifinals played at the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre, just a few kilometres from The Oval.

Chasing a target of 339 runs was never easy for any team, so it’s no surprise that the Indian team crumbled under scoreboard pressure. While that’s true for the team as a whole, scoreboard pressure was not what did Kohli and Rohit Sharma in. It’s their failure to deal with Mohammed Amir.

Sharma is a treat to watch when things get going his way, but his body language at the crease has never been inspiring. He has a habit of giving away his wicket through soft dismissals — a lazy stroke or a chip back to the bowler — even when he has been hitting the ball well. He is not the sort of player who you trust to come up with consistent performances and on Sunday against Amir in the big-ticket match he lost the plot from ball one, which angled away.

That beefed Amir up and “the ruthless body language” strategy put in place by Pakistani bowling coach Azhar Mahmood was in work. Amir was all animated and Sharma brainfrozen as the second delivery too beat the opener outside off stump. The third ball nipped back to trap Sharma in front of the wicket. The failure looked sickeningly familiar.

Kohli’s undoing was the result of a combination of his well-documented vulnerability outside off-stump and arrogance at the wrong time. With two slips in place, chasing a target of 339, and one down in the very first over with nothing on the scoreboard, the skipper bit the off-stump trap in the third over and was lucky to survive as the simple chance was wasted by the slip fielder.

You need to be incredibly stupid, or stupidly arrogant, to repeat the same mistake and get out to the very next ball. Kohli should have handled Amir in his first spell with more maturity. It was only the first few overs of a 50-over game of cricket, Kohli would have got his opportunity to square up to Amir later on, and the need of the time was a partnership with Shikhar Dhawan. Blaming Kohli for asking Pakistan to bat first may be a matter of hindsight, but the way he batted — irresponsibly — was a matter of serious concern.

Kohli’s handling of his bowling resources was equally glaring. Jasprit Bumrah had a disastrous day. If Bumrah had not overstepped in the fourth over, Fakhar Zaman would have been back in the dressing room after scoring just three runs off seven balls, not the match-winning 114 off 106 balls. After the maiden first over, and the frugal second, Pakistan had only seven on the scoreboard, and a wicket would have put the brakes. Bumrah was taken off after three overs, brought back in the 11th for a two-over spell and again in the 35th for an over and then for his final spell in the death overs, all of which put together cost India 68 runs with nothing in return.

When Ravichandran Ashiwn and Ravindra Jadeja leaked easy runs in the middle overs, and when Bumrah failed either to get a breakthrough or curb the run flow, the wisdom, or a lack of it, in playing two spinners, leaving Umesh Yadav to watch helplessly the horror being unfolded from the dressing room, on a pitch outside Asia in the final of a big tournament against a team from the subcontinent who are known to play slow merchants well, was more than a matter of hindsight. It’s a strategy that suited the occasion which Indian coach and the skipper got miserably wrong.

By then Kohli seemed to have lost his ability to think clearly. He kept rotating Ashiwin, Jadeja and Hardik Pandya in overs 11 to 40, hoping for a miracle. Had he forgotten that he had Kedar Jadhav on the field? Finally, Kohli tossed the ball to Jadhav in the 39th over, but by then Pakistan, on 239 for two, were looking at a 350-run total. Jadhav bowled three overs, one in the middle overs and two — the 43rd and 45th — in the death, and his final figures read 3-0-27-1. Jadhav is a part-time bowler who could be tried when nothing works, perhaps in the middle overs, not in the death overs against a team racing towards a big score.

When nothing went right for India in the middle overs, Kohli could have tried his luck by bringing Bhuvaneshwar Kumar for a couple of overs. Kumar bowled five overs in his opening spell conceding just 10 runs, and there was no point preserving all of his rest of the five overs for the death overs when things were getting out of hand in the middle overs.

As Kohli would love to say, team India need to move forward. But not by sweeping, with or without a smile, The Oval dirt under the carpet.


The writer is a freelance contributor based in India. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman

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