Cricket Column: Kohli looks to climb Everest without an ice axe

Sports Tuesday 31/January/2017 16:47 PM
By: Times News Service
Cricket Column: Kohli looks to climb Everest without an ice axe

The uninspiring happenings at Kanpur and their disgusting repeat at Nagpur coupled with the mysterious reluctance of the Indian think tank to take a hard, honest look at their T20 game plan bring the focus back on the soft underbelly of the Indian team in the shortest format of the game. The ugly, bitter truth has never been as disgusting as it was played out in the first two games against England. Virat Kohli got damp squibs and blunt daggers to engage in high-voltage modern warfare with enemies armed with lethal nukes.
The Indian weakness is inherent, which is a shortage of players with a superior build. It’s not in the powers of skipper Virat Kohli or coach Anil Kumble to bring in genetic changes to get a steady supply of six-plus-foot guys with broad shoulders and bulging bicepses, but there’s an urgent need to pick up the best and make the charge. The old warhorses need to be left out in the stables.
Unlikely though it seems in view of the awesome potential at the disposal of Eoin Morgan, India may win the game today by a combination of unpredictable luck and strange umpiring errors — but a series win that happens more by chance than merit will leave pretty little for the captain or the coach to celebrate without the lurking, mortal feeling of systemic vulnerability waiting to trigger off.
India got at No.3 and 4 positions guys who are trying to recreate their magic of the past without success. Suresh Raina was in at Kanpur and Nagpur at the fall of Kohli. Unfortunately, Kohli is more than half of the team at the moment, and his wicket, even when it happens after India get to a good score or closest to a target, is an opportunity for the other team to pull themselves up. When Kohli opens the innings and is out early, as it happened in both the games, Raina is a wrong choice to come in at No. 3. When one more wicket falls quickly, Yuvraj Singh is another misfit in the No. 4 slot.
Most Indian top-order batsmen who are now part of the team share a common weakness: they need a bit of time, a few balls to block and tackle before they could get going. That may not be an issue in an ODI game, but T20 requires a different set of skills and attitude. It’s all right if they take an over to get acclimatized, but they need to rotate the strike even when they use up their first few balls to play themselves in, and it’s here Indian top-order fails. They simply block the ball, which builds pressure on them. This is where the slow, boring innings painfully crafted by Manish Pandey stood out at Nagpur.
Pandey was not timing the ball, but he was always getting the singles. There wasn’t even a single hit to the boundary until his personal score was 22 in the 19th over, 20 of which came in singles, which on another wicket on a different day would have been unpardonable. He got off the mark with a single from the first ball he had faced, and there wasn’t a dot ball until the 10th. There was just another dot ball, the 12th, in his 26-ball innings. On a pitch where timing the ball wasn’t easy, the singles helped him stay in and muster confidence to hit that six. That — not blocking the first few balls to play oneself in but looking for the singles — is the right attitude when a batsman is back in the team after a gap and the pitch is not ideal for stroke-play.
Understandably, Morgan left Nagpur fuming over umpiring errors. Angry and “unbelievably disappointed”, and emboldened by the fact they are better than their rivals in the T20 format by many miles, Morgan and his mates will be looking to deliver the killer punch at Bangalore today. Nothing except a convincing win that happens through a better batting display will help Team India, and their fans, to get themselves ready for the tougher tasks lying in wait for them.
That, at the moment, looks like climbing Everest without ropes, boots and ice axes.
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