Former Sri Lanka skipper Kumar Sangakkara feels it is unfair to label India as over-dependent on Virat Kohli and attributes the team’s debacle in the first two Tests against England to lack of preparation.
England won the first two of the five Tests in Birmingham and Lord’s, with a worrying point about India’s batting being that Kohli was the only batsman to score any runs.
“It is almost unfair to the other batsmen because we have seen Virat batting like he has for the last few years. It is incredible to watch and he is an incredible performer, but others are also fantastic players,” Sangakkar said.
“Pujara and Rahane are absolutely great batsmen - Pujara averages 50 in Test cricket, Rahane averages 50 overses. Then, there are others. KL Rahul looks brilliant (when in form), Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Dinesh Karthik — these are no insignificant names.”
'Lack of preparation'
India played a lone warm-up match before the Test series, and that too was overshadowed by a controversy after it was reduced to a three-day affair, and the lack of match time was not lost on Sangakkara.
“They have struggled here and one of the reasons could be lack of preparation. So they really need to think hard because you cannot prepare while you are playing the Test matches. You have to find that confidence to answer the questions asked by English bowlers in training and in practice games.
“English bowlers have exploited the usual sub-continental weaknesses here and that has created more questions than answers for the Indian side.”
India lost at Lord’s by an innings and 159 runs, with the defeat coming within technically two days as rain played spoilsport throughout the game.
“It all went wrong at the toss itself. They were great bowling conditions on day two, and James Anderson and Chris Woakes made life tough for them. When you are out for 107, and conditions next day are very good for batting, it is hard to pull things back even when Mohammed Shami bowled beautifully.
“It leaves a question mark on the Indian team selection. If you are playing five days then yes under the sun, it would have been different with two spinners coming into the game. But they really didn’t make any impact on the game.
“The England batsmen regrouped really well after initial breakthroughs. Again in this innings the English bowlers showing that they know the conditions and how they can make an impact with the swinging ball.”
Sangakkara felt India’s selection for Lord’s was “heavily influenced” by the way they played at Edgbaston.
“They made a decision based on an having an extra fact bowler there, and having said that, fast bowlers usually do most of the damage at Lord’s. So they should have stuck with more or less the same team, or bowling attack (by bringing in Pujara for Dhawan). Hardik Pandya played, but they could have played an extra batsman and an extra pacer instead if they wanted to.”
Even so, it marked the 37th time in as many Tests that Kohli fielded a different playing eleven.
“They haven’t played the same side for now 37 Tests, so that goes a lot to say how things are. I am not saying that it is a bad thing but sometimes in Test cricket batsmen and bowlers need consistency in selection. It gives you confidence, trust and the courage to go out there to perform for the side.
“Some times changing and chopping is not a negative thing, and sometimes it can be a negative thing. But a change always has to be tactical (not for the heck of it).”
When asked pertinently if too many changes in the team’s batting core since the tour of South Africa had an adverse effect, the legend replied, “In fact, it is more a question for players themselves, and if the Indian team can have a chat in the dressing room about it.”
The cricketer turned commentator added, “If it is bothering them, then be open about it — talk to the captain, the coach and the management. Ask them, ‘can we have a little more consistency because this is bothering us.’ But if they have bought into it (changing and chopping) and are fine with it, then it’s a different question.”
The question of communication within the Indian dressing room has come under the spotlight recently. Former skipper Sourav Ganguly too opined on air that there aren’t many expressive personalities in the team currently.
Elsewhere there have been suggestions that Kohli’s aggressive persona could be a factor too.
Sangakkara though was of the opinion that Kohli’s aggression is focussed entirely on cricket and is good for the modern-day game.
“I have been lucky to spend a little bit of time with Virat off the field. I don’t think he is intense at all. I find him absolutely wonderful to talk to — he is very open. He has other interests outside of cricket and is not just concentrating on the game all the time, which I think is great because that’s why he plays so brilliantly on the field.
“When he plays cricket, he is 100 percent focussed on it. He wears his heart on the sleeve, is very passionate and it is great not just for him but also his side, and cricket at large.
“And I think he is a very good captain and will get better as time goes along. Every one has a few weaknesses here and there. He has been a one-man army for India for a while, in terms of weight of runs.”