Lack of preparation, not Kohli dependence reason behind India’s debacle: Kumar Sangakkara
When will Virat Kohli get the support from his other batsmen? (Getty Images)

Kumar Sangakkara has given the struggling Indian batsmen benefit of the doubt, pointing out that it is unfair to call the team “overdependent” on its captain Virat Kohli. In two Tests against England that India have lost, Kohli has made 250 runs in four innings for an average of 60; the other specialist batsmen have managed 167.

And even as India went down 0-2 to England at Lord’s in the second Test, their batsmen’s meek surrender raised questions over the team’s ability to play quality and way too superior a bowling attack in testing conditions. Sangakkara, in an exclusive interview to PTI, stressed on the lack of practice matches for the Indian team and specified that had things been different on that front, the batsmen might have fared better.

“It is almost unfair to the other batsmen because we have seen Virat batting like he has for the last few years. It’s incredible to watch and he is an incredible performer, but others are also fantastic players,” Sangakkara said. “Pujara and Rahane are absolutely great batsmen Pujara averages 50 in Test cricket, Rahane averages 50 overseas. Then, there are others. KL Rahul looks brilliant (when in form), Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Dinesh Karthik these are no insignificant names.”

India played just one practice game leading up to the Test series. It was learnt that the BCCI provided the team opportunity to play more matches but Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri preferred to rest. Former cricketers including Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly have all voiced their opinion over the importance of practice matches on a testing tour such as this.

In the four innings so far, India managed scores of 274 and 162 (at Edgbaston), which they lost by 31 runs, and were rolled over for 107 and 130 at Lord’s.

“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, Sangakkara added. “English bowlers have exploited the usual sub-continental weaknesses here and that has created more questions than answers for the Indian side.”

Sangakkara, scorer of over 25000 runs for Sri Lanka, was the latest to weigh in on India’s questionable team selection for the second Test. India went in with two fast bowlers – Hardik Pandya being a third seam bowling option – and two spinners in R Ashwin and Kuldeep Yadav. And while many believe that it would have been an ideal option had it not rained prior to the start of the match, three pacers was the need of the hour in conditions tailor-made for fast bowling.

“It all went wrong at the toss itself. There 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,” the former wicketkeeper batsman said.

“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. They made a decision based on having an extra fast 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.”

Kohli’s knack of not sticking to a particular team combination is highlighted even more prominently considering the fact that not once has he fielded the same Playing XI in his tenure as India’s full-time Test captain since 2015. It has been 37 Test matches as per today, and considering India’s abject batting, it is likely that the trend won’t stop here.

“They haven’t played the same side for now 37 Tests, so that goes a lot to say how things are,” Sangakkara said. “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. Sometimes 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).

“If it (constant changes) 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.”