Batting failure in Perth a gruesome reminder of 2018
It is safe to say that India lost the match at Kohli's wicket. (AFP Image)

PERTH: Day five in Perth was an absolute formality.

In the post-match press conference, Virat Kohli spoke about ‘always believing in victory’ and the need to ‘go for glory’. Yes, some day in the future maybe, Hanuma Vihari and Rishabh Pant will be able to turn Tests in India’s favour, but not on Tuesday.

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Ask yourself if you shared Kohli’s optimism overnight that India could still win from 112-5? And then ask a second question – just when did the optimist fan in you shrugged this Perth Test as defeat? The answer from a billion people would be 48-3 – when Kohli edged Nathan Lyon to first slip and walked back.

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As captain, and a vital member of this Indian team, Kohli has every right to believe that his teammates are capable enough to pull off stunning wins even without his aid. Otherwise the whole team structure comes crashing down. And there can be no argument herein – each among KL Rahul, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and even Pant (at the Oval) have shown in the past that they are very accomplished batsmen.

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When picking a Test squad, or even the playing eleven, as selector and captain, you know they are all capable of such feats. Even watching from outside the boundary, there is belief in their individual and combined capability to perform glorious feats. For media hacks, there is assumption on paper, and for fans, there is hope. Sadly, neither aspect came true for India in this second Test.

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Before moving ahead though, there needs to be a pertinent reminder that there wasn’t just one reason for India’s loss to Australia by 146 runs. Improper team selections, picking four pacers and superior opposition on a bouncy pitch, form a combination of factors behind this defeat. All of them though pale in comparison to what can only be defined as a total batting failure.

Having scored runs in South Africa, England and Australia, Kohli doesn’t form part of this collective batting disappointment for a long time now. As usual, he did his part, batting like the best batsman in the world, with confidence and swagger on a treacherous pitch. There is nobody in international cricket today who could bat like that on this tough wicket, which is where the realities become harsher for India.

Just look at that Australian line-up. In the absence of Steve Smith and David Warner, they do not have a single world-class batsman, who can dominate or influence the game in the manner Kohli does. Sure, they have Usman Khawaja and Shaun Marsh who bat with experience, Aaron Finch and Tim Paine who try hard, and Marcus Harris and Travis Head who understand the gravity of situation and the opportunity of playing Test cricket. The resultant is in front of us, and is as clear as daylight.

Australia have batted a total of 420.2 overs across the four innings in Adelaide and Perth. In comparison, India have batted for 356.4 overs. Considering that Australia only lost by 31 runs in the first Test and then won by a huge margin of 146 runs in the second, their batting line-up has been more effective in occupying the crease and more efficient in using that time spent at the crease.

The management needs to have a chat with Rishabh Pant regarding his shot selection. (AFP Image)
The management needs to have a chat with Rishabh Pant regarding his shot selection. (AFP Image)

And this is where the jarring bit comes forth for the Indian team management. On their best days, Pujara-Rahane can rely on their bags of experience, Rahul-Vijay can be useful at the top, while whatever little we have seen of Pant-Vihari, we know there is potential for impact. Yet, all of this is either coming forth in patches or not at all.

Pujara and Rahane have scored runs in this series thus far. But are they carrying enough responsibility towards winning India Tests overseas yet? The answer is a resounding no. For them, 2018 has only been a journey towards finding their feet in Test cricket again, and to a certain extent the blame for that also lies on the team management’s doorstep. They weren’t backed enough by Kohli, the coach and selectors, and so they cannot fulfil these expectations at a critical juncture, simply because their form hasn’t expanded enough to have such impact.

Alternately, Rahul and Vijay have done nothing of note throughout the year. Again, it is the weakness of this same team management that they have been unable to severe ties and send them rolling back to domestic wilderness (Rahul) or called back too soon (Vijay). Time and opportunity hasn’t been invested in finding new opening combinations – just how does Mayank Agarwal not have a Test cap yet?

If then, this opening combination fails time and again, whom does the buck fall back on? In the same vein, Vihari has now become part of the selection merry go round – dropped after one Test, back again after another, what are the odds he will be dropped in Melbourne again? And in that light, have either captain or coach had a word with Pant and asked him to calm down in favour of improved shot selection and judgment of situation?

This Indian line-up is a pale shadow of the potential it bears, and that too despite the presence of a world-class, all-conquering batsman at number four. As such, it is a pitiful yet unsurprising state of affairs that India have been able to win only three out of 10 overseas Tests this year.