virat kohli
Virat Kohli (AFP Photo)

A day before this second Test got underway, there was nearly 99 per cent chance that Virat Kohli would pick four pacers in his attack. The question to ask: would he have still done so had Ravichandran Ashwin been fit and available?

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That probability index perhaps falls down to 90 per cent but no lower, for it is not the first time this Indian team management has made a similar mistake.

Remember Cape Town when Ajinkya Rahane didn’t play? Remember Centurion when Bhuvneshwar Kumar didn’t play? Remember Birmingham when Cheteshwar Pujara didn’t play? Remember Lord’s when they played two spinners on a wet, very wet wicket?

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That’s four out of 10 overseas Tests they have played in 2018, and now Perth can be added into that list. On Tuesday, after India go on to lose this match (and they surely will given a long non-wagging tail and the last batting pair at the crease), this match will be remembered for how India got carried away with the sight of green grass on the new Optus Stadium pitch and didn’t play a full-time spinner.

Of course, it is easy to say all of this in hindsight. But the crux of the above statement is in the fact that India made a poor strategy call, even if they had won this game. It was not evident on days one and two, or even won’t be on day five. It was pretty evident on days three and four when Nathan Lyon came into play. He finished with five wickets in the first innings, and then had a mic-drop moment in the press conference that ‘yes!’ India did err in not playing a spinner like him.

Thing is, India don’t have a spinner like Lyon. In head-to-head comparisons, even Ashwin doesn’t compare to the Australian in terms of bowing in these conditions, let alone Ravindra Jadeja or Kuldeep Yadav. Bounce is the key on these flatter wickets, with perhaps rough coming into play in the latter half of the Tests. By his own admission, Ashwin has said that he is a different bowler than Lyon, and we got to see it amply in the Adelaide Test.

A week ago, Kohli used Ashwin as a holding bowler from one end as he sent down 80-plus overs and the pacers worked effectively around him. It was clockwork, allowing this brilliant Indian attack to show its worthiness. So much so, they recovered from a precarious 250-odd in the first innings of the series and won the Test.

It is not to say they could have worked the same magic in this Perth Test as well, no. Instead, the underlying point herein is that Kohli, as captain, tied his hands behind his back and was left with no options to change the pace of this game. No disrespect to Hanuma Vihari, who did take two wickets in the first innings, yet he or even a fourth-change pacer like Umesh Yadav cannot bowl with enough guile or wherewithal when you need to hold the Australian batting back. Even to bowl overs quicker and in keeping with the over-rate, or simply to do something different.

However, this point has been bleated to death across forums, and this is no different. In that light, India didn’t miss their frontline spinner to impact the game on day four. It is just that the progression of this Test was such on Monday that this gross inadequacy in the Indian line-up came to the forefront with how things ultimately panned out at stumps.

Let it be said here, nothing, absolutely nothing can save India from defeat on day five. Die-hard fans will still believe in Vihari and Rishabh Pant to pull off a miracle, but these are the people who think unicorns exist. The Perth pitch isn’t a complete snorting-fire variety just yet, but it has deteriorated enough to make sure that there will be five deliveries through the 90 overs to dismiss the remaining Indian batsmen.

This was seen in the manner Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah bowled. The latter kept up the pressure, beating batsmen again and again, until the crows came home. He was just unlucky, or maybe you need world-class batsmen to nick easily on this pitch. Also, it didn’t help that set-batsmen Usman Khawaja and Tim Paine were intent on batting as long as possible. Even so, as soon as one wicket fell, the rest followed in a head.

Alternately then, it could take one ball to expose the tail. Imagine if Vihari gets out first ball, we will see Ishant Sharma at the crease on the second delivery of the day. Four pacers, who cannot bat, also needlessly elongate your tail. Instead, it could have been Ravindra Jadeja, or even Bhuvneshwar Kumar (a better choice than Umesh), who are capable enough to hold a bat in dire situations.

If three pacers cannot do the job on a lively track, then four probably won’t. If you still have to pick a fourth, at least select one who could perhaps bat a bit? The bottom-line emanating from this third Test therefore is the stubbornness of the Indian team management to learn its lessons. And it will cost them yet another overseas Test in 2018.