Team selection is a window into the mind of the skipper, and Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s team selection for the fourth Test told me that he had winning the match his priority.
He played five bowlers and also decided to bat first in overcast conditions. It’s another matter that his batsmen didn’t stand up.
The common thread between the first five dismissals was the lack of foot movement. While you score runs with a bat in hand, it’s the feet that allow hands to do what’s needed.
The biggest let down for India on this tour has been the lack of runs from their two key players – Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli, who were touted as India’s marquee players for the tour.
But that hasn’t happened and both of them have looked a pale shadow of their former run-machine selves. Are they out-of-form? Before forming an opinion it’s important to know that there’s an inherent difference between lack of form and not scoring runs.
If it’s the former, you pick the ball late from the bowler’s hand, your mind is slow to process the information and is late to send the signals to your limbs to react in time. Cook was falling into that category during the last year when he was getting dismissed in the head more often than to the balls that got him.
He wouldn’t come to the front-foot to balls that were full, he would poke the ones that were to be left alone and was late in reacting to the ones that came in sharply after pitching. But that’s not happening with the two Indians in question, for the feet are moving fine, they’re picking the lines and length correctly and the body is getting (mostly) in the right positions as well.
This is enough for me to know that they aren’t out-of-form and hence they are falling into the second category of ‘not scoring runs’. Good news for India.
Pujara has looked better than Kohli in the series. He’s mostly looked solid during the time he’s spent at the crease and then suddenly a mistake happens and he’s back in the hut. He doesn’t play a rank bad shot to get out but a minor error of judgment is enough to bring about his downfall.
This is a case of a momentarily lapse of concentration, which can happen to players at different stages of their innings. Pujara hasn’t played any four-day cricket since the last Test match in New Zealand and that may have been a factor.
He knows how to score big but at the moment he seems to have fallen out of that habit. Kohli seems to be dealing with a different problem, for he’s got a few wicket-taking deliveries early on in his innings.
There isn’t much he can do about that. But there’s one area of his game that needs tightening up. The first innings at Trent Bridge, Southampton and Old Trafford have shown a developing pattern.
He’s played at the ball that’s at least a foot outside the line of his head with a straight bat and ended up nicking it to slips. Playing with a straight bat is wonderful only if the hands are under your head, for the moment hands are away you are in no control of the ball. It’s better to either leave that ball or play it with a horizontal bat.
While Pujara’s issue was lack of cricket, Virat’s could be too much limited overs cricket since the last time he played Tests. Falling prey to bad habits at an early part of your career is not all bad. If you learn from them, you have one less worry going forward.
Kohli had a serious problem against the short ball in his debut Test series but he dealt with it so diligently that now bowlers fear bowling short to him. And that’s why I feel Kohli will come out stronger and, more importantly, tighter from this spell.