When the Galle test began, the battle was to be between two young teams in transition – unsettled, inexperienced and with a long road ahead. Usually, India-Sri Lanka matches are dismissed as a revenue-generating ploy by one of the Boards; they’ve played each other more times than any other two international teams in the history of cricket. And this is no exaggeration.
Sri Lanka has never won a test match in India. They haven’t even come close. India has not won a test series in Sri Lanka since 1993. And back then, the Lankans were minnows, at par with Zimbabwe.
In 2015, when Kohli took his team to Sri Lanka in early August, even though his own team wasn’t exactly at the pinnacle of their abilities, the Lankans were worse. They had just lost in all 3 formats to a visiting Pakistani side, and had failed to defend more than 370 on one occasion in the fourth innings.
The Galle test began, and immediately, Lanka were on the back foot. 181 all out in no time, before Kohli and Dhawan compiled centuries. At one point, India were 30 runs ahead with 7 wickets in hand. A 200-run lead would have been sufficient, for sure. Or even 150.
They got a 190-run lead, thanks to Saha and the tail-enders. And with Lanka at 97-5, the match looked well and truly over. Commentators started speaking about Kohli’s first test as Captain in Sri Lanka, and how he would manage to do what no other Indian captain had done.
Chandimal played a blinder. Sri Lanka put up 175 to chase in the fourth innings, and India collapsed – one of the most inexplicable collapses in test cricket. Both teams are equally good – or equally bad, actually – therefore, it was even more shocking to see the way India lost the plot on day 4.
Now, once again, India are 1-0 down in a 3-match series. Here are five things Kohli and ‘brother from another (older) mother’ Shastri need to do:
5. Shastri needs to stop being bullish about a ‘young and aggressive 6-5 combination’ before each series, only to slink away into the background after capitulation. He needs to face the media in victory and defeat, and perhaps learn to be a little modest before being arrogant about his team’s chances. It’s all well and good to back your players, but one shouldn’t make statements in response to media and public opinion. Live in a bubble, and die in it: that should be his motto. Aggression on the field is good (case in point – New Zealand), but the support staff can learn to be calmer and less arrogant behind the scenes. So, Shastri, if you ever read this – chill out. And tell Kohli to chill out, too.
4. Kohli needs to stop letting internal politics tear apart his opinions of the side. Not many will say it, but it’s quite clear that Kohli has an issue with Pujara. There were murmurs of the same back in Australia, too. He is very fond of Rohit Sharma, but he can’t possibly play him at 3 any longer. Kohli needs to sort out his issues with Pujara and put him back at 3 before it’s too late. Such petty feuds will not help the side, and Shastri needs to take off his own blinders to recognize that the team needs a stabilizing factor at 3. I’m a big fan of Rohit too, but it’s time to admit that perhaps there’s no place for him in this test team.
3. Harbhajan Singh needs to be sent back to T20 cricket for good. He has had a long and distinguished international career, but it’s over. He looked like a shadow of a bowler at Galle when every other spinner got purchase. He isn’t much of a batsman either, and is a liability on the field. Why does the management think he’s still capable of playing at the highest level? Surely not because of his Mumbai Indians’ stint? He doesn’t fit into this ‘young’ scheme of things, and needs to be done away with IMMEDIATELY.
2. The bowling line-up should read: Umesh, Varun, Bhuvneshwar, Ashwin and Mishra – if they’re to stick to 5 bowlers. An all-rounder is crucial, but Binny isn’t of international standards. They need to look deeper and uncover one. Ashwin can’t quite handle both departments either; he can score when he knows he’s a bowler who chips in. Bhuvneshwar Kumar is a quality bowler, and his batting is of some use, too. Perhaps he could be blooded as the all-rounder we need?
1. The team, given the squad here, should read: Vijay, Dhawan, Pujara, Kohli, Rahane, Saha, Ashwin, Bhuvi, Mishra, Aaron, Yadav. Two tear-away pacers are required, and Vijay is the most crucial element of the team. Get in a full-time coach – even if it’s an Aussie. Somebody needs to teach this team a lesson or two in temperament. Drop Rohit, drop Harbhajan and develop a team around Pujara at 3. He needs to be given a longer rope. With the home season around the corner, maybe he could get some confidence back. But your own captain needs to back you. Having said that, even though it suits his own batting, I’m not too sure Kohli is equipped to handle test captaincy. But tell that to Shastri, or the BCCI. Also, BRING BACK DRS – however flawed the system is. It will reduce human errors, as demonstrated by the many crucial decisions that went against India this time. Chandimal was out twice, but there was no DRS. It was quite funny to see Shastri mum about the issue after all the injustice. Why? Because he is the BCCI boy, who must not speak of those we do not name.