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What went wrong with India in ICC World Test Championship? What if ..

So, what went wrong for Team India, given the resources available to BCCI (richest cricketing entity in the world) and recent taste of overseas victories that has led the fanatic Indian supporters expecting nothing less than the top podium finish from their cult heroes. As with any supporting debacle, post-mortem of result would be undertaken by various Indian media platforms till the tabloids start getting a hackneyed feed of ‘Fish-Bone’ analysis. Let us look at some of the key factors resulting in India’s defeat:

Timing & Location: India finished top of the table with NZ as runners-up after two years of qualifying league cycle. Many would say that India should have earned the right to host the final that would have greatly enhanced their chances of winning due to home advantage. However, if we look at history of World Test Championship inception (initial proposal in 2009 with original plan to be hosted in 2013 replacing ICC Champions Trophy etc), then ICC needs to be commended for making he inaugural WTC happen at the most challenging of times.

Add to that the Covid19 lockdown in India, challenges of logistics and quarantine across borders, so cricket followers in both countries should be glad to finally have a contest at all, rather than the other passive option of being declared joint winners. What if the match was staged on a more spin conducive pitch like Manchester on a hot summer day with Ashwin and Jadeja in full flight?

Solo Test vs Best of Three: Indian management, especially head coach Ravi Shastri and captain Virat Kohli, both opined at different stages that WTC final should be played as a best of three instead of a solo test. There is merit in the argument given that teams prepare for two years home and away to earn the right to play in WTC Final, so just to lose the title in couple of hours or one bad session wouldn’t necessarily justify the skills depth of the team ending as runners-up.

The other side of the coin is weighed by financial prudence (how many other nations would be interested in watching, say India vs NZ over 15 days) and again, the logistics. One option that ICC may look at is to have two tests – in each of the home countries of the top two teams and if the result is 0-0 or 1-1 then have third match in a neutral venue. Just imagine England vs Australia at Eden Gardens in Calcutta or India vs South Africa at MCG. What if it was 1-1 with India winning at Motera and NZ winning at Seddon Park with Grand Final at Sydney, Australia?

Team Selection: Ten out of eleven players selected themselves with only position for discussion being Jadeja vs one of the seam bowlers where Siraj had the numbers to back him. However, the fact that Team India got a second opportunity to rejig their team due to delayed start but opted to go with the same 11 that they declared a few days ahead, just went to prove the conviction management had in the selected team. Many critics have since stated that it was a sign of overconfidence shown by the management panel who disregarded the playing conditions and erred on the side by not picking a fourth seamer. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but realistically, India could not afford to have four No 11 batsmen, given the
batting skills of Bumrah, Ishant and Shami equate to hardly dependable particularly while playing overseas. What they needed were the bowling skills of Siraj plus batting skills of Shardul. What if a fit Hardik Pandya was available for selection with matches under his belt?

Toss: both teams said that they would have opted to bowl first, a strategy that normally works well under cloudy skies. Again, this was another element in the list of ‘uncontrollable’ factors. If India won the toss and bowled first, then they would have had to bat last so instead of setting a target, they would have been chasing one given that match went all the way to the last hour on sixth day. What if India batted last with a different mindset of either going for a win or playing for a draw in the last hour?

Captaincy: India’s last triumph at an ICC event came under captain MS Dhoni. Since then, India has failed to add another ICC trophy to their cabinet under Kohli. There have been debates around Kohli’s captaincy, but I suppose the question that needs to be answered is if the captaincy is really affecting his performance. Answer may not lie just in simple stats as his overall batting average remains quite healthy as a captain. However, consideration needs to be given to facts like recent series win in Australia when he was not available and Rahane led the team to a memorable victory with a brilliant century at MCG, his recent batting average (19.3 in 2020, 28.6 in 2021) and lack of personal success in
key games in ICC tournaments.

This is where he needs an honest chat with Ravi Shastri and weigh up the alternate options available to the team. What if Rahane took the captaincy reins and we could see the magic of a genius playing with an uncluttered mind? Finally, Indian selectors took a forced gamble going with six specialist batsmen in bowling friendly conditions and hoping that either Ashwin/ Jadeja or both would fill the void but that failed. It was forced as they did not have likes of Hardik Pandya or equivalent as the situation demanded a bowling allrounder else team would end up having a long tail. Then again, the crucial lower order runs were missing which are so important playing overseas, an aspect of the game that Australia and England of late execute so well.

However, final straw that broke camel’s back was collective batting effort on the sunny sixth day – leading to the most important keg – individual Player Performance, that would need to be reviewed separately. What if any of the top order batsmen or the allrounders batted for another half hour with Pant, given that match went into the last hour?

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