The post mortem of India’s semi final defeat in World Cup 2019 continues and will be for few more weeks all across India and in various social media. India along with England were hot favourites to win, and the former lived upto their billing till the league phase by topping the table with just one defeat. However ,the semifinals again proved their Achilles heel as their top batsmen could not cope with the swing and seam of the Manchester pitch and the New Zealand pace attack. This has been the trend of past 18 months when India carried out 3 high profile overseas tours in South Africa, England and Australia. Barring Australia to some extent where conditions are somewhat more batting friendly than South Africa and England, the highly rated Indian batting were struggling to find their feet when confronted with tougher bowling conditions. There were questionable team selections in South Africa where Ajinkha Rahane did not figure in the XI in 1st two tests and Bhuvneswar Kumar dropped for 2nd test after a stellar show in 1st test !! . As a result the series was decided before the final test. Similarly, the non inclusion of a resolute Pujara at the start of England series proved dear for India. Playing a wrist spinner in seaming and overcast conditions at Lords and persisting with an unfit Ashwin did not help matters either. KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan continued to be persisted with inspite of consistent test failures and relying on an aging Dinesh Karthik as the keeper batsman for England tour misfired. The batting repeatedly misfired in bowling conditions and even struggled against the ordinary spinners of the opposition ,something unthinkable for earlier generations. After test series defeats in South Africa and England, India finally managed to win their first ever test series in Australia ,who were however without Warner and Smith ,two of their best batsmen serving their one year suspension in ball tampering scandal. It was almost like India playing without Kohli and Pujara. Thus a visibly weakened Australia lineup failed to rise to the occasion.
It has to be said that this is the first time in Indian cricket history ,that India poccessed such a strong bowling lineup and many times in South Africa and England they had the opposition batting under the pump but failed to drive home the advantage . Only in Australia they succeeded in winning the series apart from outstanding batting by Cheteswar Pujara.
India’s world cup selection too was not without controversy, with the promising Rishabh Pant overlooked from the original squad and instead Dinesh Karthik ,whose recent successes were limited to T20 cricket ,got the nod as 2nd keeper. The search for a proper number four continued for 2 years till deep into the World cup. Ambati Rayudu almost appeared to have sealed it but lost it after some ordinary outings against Australia. Vijay Shankar got the nod for his additional bowling skills. The team hung on with a mediocre Kedar Jadav for a while . There were some good talents like Shreyas Iyer, Shubman Gill ,Mayank Agarwal but they were overlooked. Also during the league phase Mohammed Shami , who looked in fine wicket taking rhythm was overlooked for the all important semifinal and a resource like Jadeja took a long time before breaking into the XI. And the mother of all blunders, batting Dhoni at number 7 when India were struggling at 24/4 in the semis . Karthik and Pandya were better off in the latter half to accelerate whereas the experienced Dhoni was required to shepherd the Indian batting from that point onwards but it was not to be. A decision that will be discussed for ages.
All the above illustrations of strange decision making goes on to prove that the Indian thinktank comprising of captain Virat Kohli , head coach Ravi Shastri and the support coaching staff did have their areas of confusion . Many of these muddled decisions had culminated in costing two vital test series wins and possibly a World cup victory as well. As a batting coach Sanjay Bangar, himself a resolute batsman in his playing days, was unable to assist players like Rahul, Dhawan, and few others to come out of their technical glitches or temperamental issues and the same goes for the head coach Ravi Shastri ,who biggest job was to keep the players in top shape specially in the mental side of things. It is the head coach ,who needs to show the way in the dressing room when the team is struggling. These are international players,and they are not to be taught basic batting and bowling but they require someone elderly or senior to get them in the right mental space when things are going tough . However the same was nowhere in evidence in the two overseas test series which India lost by throwing away multiple winning situations . Also there have been rumours, that few of the team’s batsmen started approaching other past accomplished senior cricketers for guidance.
With World cup done and dusted ,India now needs to look forward and introduce new talents specially in the batting department . Talent is available but oppurtunity needs to be given . In next four years leading to next World cup , we will come across another round of overseas tours ,the T20 World cup next year and so on. Hence it is important to have fresh ideas and new thought processes , since India will be mostly involved in home series now. This is the right time for a change of head coach. Ravi Shastri, with all due respect to what he tried to achieve in last two years , needs to make way now after the overall performance of last 18 months ,which could have been a lot better than it actually is. A positive person himself, he did try to introduce positive thought process with captain Kohli ,but the coaches role goes beyond just positive thinking. The inability of the head coach and the batting coach to improve the level and thought process of Indian batting has been one of the disappointing aspects which have costed India. In addition multiple brainfades in decision making at different times costed the Indian team dear.
India, now requires a coach who needs to have strong convictions with the right degree of flexibility. He needs to be able to guide this talented team in the mental aspect of things and is able to take sound and uncluttered decisions or decisions under external influence. India has missed out on some great wins in the past 18 months in overseas which would have taken this talented side to a new level . This is the right time for a change.