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This is how it was: A peep into history for the Kohli generation

Indian captain Virat Kohli. File

Indian captain Virat Kohli. File   | Photo Credit: Kai Schwoerer

The generations that followed believe the reverse — that no mountain is too high to climb, no match lost on the first day itself.

If you are above a certain age and a fan of Indian cricket, you are probably familiar with the feeling. Where hope and despair are nicely mixed, where intense faith in one or two players is matched by the feeling that everything is about to go wrong.

Also read: It is just lack of form, Sehwag on Kohli’s failures

My mother exhibits this pessimism every time. She has been following the fortunes of the Indian team since the mid-1960s at least. I remember her keeping scores in a notebook, or if that couldn’t be immediately found, on the margins of the daily newspaper while listening to the radio commentary.

Those were the days when a draw was cause for celebration, and an individual century or a five-wicket haul restored some national pride. We didn’t expect to win anything, and when the great spinners, or later, Sunil Gavaskar, were praised in England or Australia we took it personally.

Those were the days when the middle order was shaky. The spinners prayed, “Give us 250 runs to bowl at,” but the batsmen often struggled.

Interesting read: ICC Test ranking: India retains top spot, Kohli remains second in batsmen's list

Those were the days of unsettled opening batsmanship (till Gavaskar came along), unreliable middle orders and a dearth of bowlers who could take wickets abroad. Those were the days when the opponents’ lower order batsmen often held up the Indian bowling. Wes Hall, Tom Veivers, John Snow, Peter Lever, Geoff Miller, Michael Holding, all bowlers, all got half-centuries while Tony Mann, who had batted at number eight in the first innings came in as night watchman for Australia in the second and made 105.

The only certainty about India’s performance was its uncertainty. I realize now it must have been traumatic. My mother, an otherwise optimistic woman with a cheery worldview, continues to be less than sanguine about the cricket team. Forget the World Cup triumphs, forget the victories abroad, forget the fact that India are the No. 1 team in the world. Ignore the fact that they have done it often, but my mother still believes India will struggle to make 150 to win, or claim twenty wickets.

The generations that followed believe the reverse — that no mountain is too high to climb, no match lost on the first day itself.

Generations overlap

And then comes a tour of New Zealand, and the two generations overlap. The old fears return. Suddenly it feels as if nothing has changed.

Also read: Virat Kohli indicates ‘mini transition’ of pace unit in near future

India struggled with the opening batting, found a hole in the middle order, allowed the lower order to add crucial runs, and didn’t look like the No. 1 team they are. It has been confusing for those who love to apportion blame, for there has been no silver lining. No “take aways” as defeated captains are fond of saying at the end of a series.

Amazingly, the result has been received with great equanimity by a nation obsessed by victories on the cricket field. This may be a sign that Test cricket is losing its sheen. Perhaps the events on the streets of Delhi and elsewhere have put sport and fandom in perspective. The call for heads and banning of players from commercial activities or raising the standards of domestic cricket, which followed defeats in England and Australia at the start of the decade have not been articulated.

To beat New Zealand in New Zealand is as difficult as it is to beat India in India. India have won five matches out of 25 in New Zealand (three of them in the first series there half a century ago), while New Zealand have won just two in India (34 matches). Till Glenn Turner and especially Richard Hadlee appeared, the New Zealanders were great favourites in India because they were seen as the one team India were expected to beat. That was then, this series loss is now.

Strange series

This was a strange series from India’s point of view. Their finest batsman and best bowler were both out of form, and here was evidence — if it were needed — that Virat Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah made up half the team. Their in-form batsman, K L Rahul was not picked for the Tests which wasn’t smart. Picking the batsman in form is hardly rocket science, even if the choice might be an admission of an earlier error.

Did India pick the right men for the final Test which they had to win? Four bowlers meant they were one short. In hindsight — and despite the poor batting — they could have played a fast bowler in place of a batsman. The BCCI’s tweet before the Test: “Spot the pitch” suggested a green top, and India, in reflex action, played the extra batsman.

Safety first is not a good tactic when there’s a match to be won, although understandable in the old India where the aim was to reduce the margin of defeat.

Skipper Kane Williamson was generous, saying the series was closer than the defeats suggested. My mother is familiar with such generosity. It was what opposition captains said in the days when India struggled to put their stamp on the world game.

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Printable version | Apr 2, 2020 12:51:59 AM |

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