By Nishad Pai Vaidya
In dark times, the few positives often get eclipsed by the predominant negatives. As India slumped to their seventh successive defeat away from home, Virat Kohli and Umesh Yadav’s fighting performances were pushed into oblivion as larger issues came to the fore. It is obvious that these problems need urgent attention and a plan needs to be charted out for India’s future in the classical format. As India move into a phase of introspection and rebuilding, the fighting displays of the Perth Test can be brought into the equation. The performances of the two youngsters are the first steps in the right direction and augur well for India.
The fight, application and hunger shown by Kohli at Perth was an example to quite a few youngsters. Going into the game, he was not only a part of a defeated unit but also had to tackle questions about his technique. Rohit Sharma’s presence in the ranks would have certainly added to the pressure which would have intensified by the growing clamour to include him. Considering all these factors, one has to laud Kohli’s temperament and confidence which got him through that acid test.
Firstly, the Indian team management should be given credit for persisting with Kohli. There would have been temptations to replace him with Rohit, but they backed him. And it worked! Keeping the future in perspective, it was important to retain Kohli and allow him the time to blend into the set-up.
One must not forget Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman’s struggle on their first tour to Australia. Dravid had a horror run on his maiden voyage Down Under, but on the next tour, he returned a stronger player and bagged the Man of the Series Award. On the other hand, Laxman’s first two games were an absolute disaster. In the final Test of the series, he blasted a thrilling 167 which kick-started his very, very special relationship with Australia. If players of Dravid and Laxman’s stature had problems adjusting to the conditions, Kohli’s initial pangs are understandable.
Kohli’s positive footwork was the most impressive aspect about his batting at Perth. It showed his confidence and sent a strong message to the bowlers. Even at Sydney, Kohli’s feet were moving and it indicated a return to form, though he didn’t get too many runs there. One could see him getting back into his groove and it was only a matter of time before he produced a good knock. The way he dealt with the short deliveries was a sight for the sore eyes and it would have given him immense confidence amidst questions over his ability to tackle them.
The only fly in the ointment seems to his tendency to tentatively poke at deliveries outside off stump. During such instances, his feet are rooted to the crease and the bat is indecisively away from his body. In that one moment, all the hard work done, the brilliance of the cover-drives and the flicks through midwicket become a fading memory. It exposes that one fatal flaw which the bowlers are waiting to exploit. Once he irons out these wrinkles, he would certainly evolve into a much better player.
Coming to Yadav, his spell on the second day was a great exhibition of seam bowling on a pace-friendly surface. David Warner’s knock would have crushed the morale of the Indian attack. The strong come back the following day is creditable. Yadav, in particular, ran in hard and worked up some serious pace. The wicket of Ricky Ponting is one he would remember for a very long time. It is a fast bowler’s delight to see the batsmen beaten by an in-swinging delivery and knocking the stumps over.
However, Yadav’s economy rate is still a worry. The number of runs he concedes is too much for the liking and he should work on being more consistent so that he builds more pressure on the batsman. The wickets he gets are off brilliant deliveries which are often brisk and surprise the batsman. If he learns to plug the leak, his wickets tally may see more victims.
At Perth he was effective when he bowled a fuller length and that is what he has to do more often. The odd short delivery can be a surprise weapon but too many half trackers may spoil that element. It is Yadav’s bad luck that his fantastic effort came in a losing cause. Had India made a dramatic recovery, a la Kolkata, his five wicket haul would have been as memorable as Ishant Sharma’s spell in 2008 at the same venue.
At the end of the day, cricket is a team game and the overall result often eclipses fighting performances coming in losing causes. At the same time the joys of victory lead one to ignore a few chinks in the armour.
The picture isn’t completely gloomy for India. There certainly is hope for the future!
(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 21-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.")