Clayton Murzello: Super skipper Kohli is no gambler
Virat Kohli, who steered India to the No 1 position in the world Test rankings. Pic/AFP
Virat Kohli & Co’s fine showing against New Zealand resulted in India’s first whitewash over the Kiwis. There have been only three whitewashes inflicted by India prior to the one on Tuesday at Indore — on Graham Gooch’s England in 1992-93, Arjuna Ranatunga’s Sri Lanka the following season and Michael Clarke’s Australian in 2012-13.
It’s only fitting that the top ranked Test team in the world came up with a comprehensive series victory. But what was discouraging to see was yet another visiting team succumb without a fight against the turning ball.
Kane Williamson’s men made the 475-run target that India had set for them look ridiculous after nine wickets fell post tea on what would become the final day of the Test.
Probably, and I don’t say this as an afterthought, Kohli could have opened up the Test match a bit by coming up with a sporting declaration and throw a challenge to his bowlers. But you never know the thinking that goes on in the inner sanctum of the dressing room and it appears old-fashioned for captains to give the opposition a window of hope to make things more interesting for the spectators. We also live in a sporting world where defeat is sometimes equated to not trying hard enough or even letting the country down. That’s the way some sections of the media would view it and then it would trickle down to cricket followers.
Captains in another era like Garry Sobers and Ian Chappell have walked the talk when it comes to real aggressive cricket. They didn’t have a negative nerve in their bodies.
In the Sydney Test of the 1968-69 series, West Indies were bowled out for 279 in response to Australia's 619. As the Australians walked off, skipper Bill Lawry asked his deputy Chappell whether he thought they should enforce the follow-on and Chappell opined they should. Lawry said he had made up his mind to bat again and set the West Indians 900 odd to get in a day and a half. Eventually, West Indies were given a 735-run victory target and they were bowled out for 352 with Australia winning by 382 runs. That was the only time Lawry asked Chappell for advice.
Like Sobers, Chappell always advocated positive cricket. I remember him being livid to a point that he didn’t enjoy his lunch served up at the Sydney Cricket Ground in January 2004 when India skipper Sourav Ganguly decided to delay his declaration till India reached 705 for seven – India’s highest ever score. Had Ganguly’s team beaten Australia, it would have given rise to India’s first ever Test series win Down Under, but the game was drawn and with it the series 1-1. Opportunity lost, but if Australia would’ve reached the target of 443, they would have beaten India in the series. There are two sides to every story.
Three years later, at the Oval in 2007, Rahul Dravid didn’t enforce the follow on despite leading by 300 runs against England. Dravid’s no-risk approach was understandable because a draw would have still given India the series honours. That was India’s last series win in England.
In Kohli’s case, it can be argued that New Zealand scored almost 300 in the first innings so they could have repeated the ‘feat’ in the second innings. Does it still merit declaring at 216? Oh yes, there was Gautam Gambhir who needed to score a fifty and Cheteshwar Pujara a hundred. Both are not in India’s one-day squad and India’s next Test match is one month away.
While it is very satisfying for teams to completely dominate opponents, once in a while, it will be good to see captains taking a gamble; be it with declarations or other strategies. One of cricket’s most famous stories is about Allan Border’s declaration in the Tied Test of 1986. Had it not been for his 170-5 closure to the Australian innings, cricket's second tie would never have come about.
Cynicism aside, India’s sterling performances augur well for sterner tests to come in the form of the forthcoming series against England and Australia as well as the one-off Test against Bangladesh. Ashwin has not only emerged a great bowler on home soil, but a bowler who can be the scourge of the opposition on overseas tracks too.
India and New Zealand get into one-day mode. Hope the slam-bang series is not as one-sided as the Tests and New Zealand display their claws that can hurt the best of one-day units.
mid-day’s group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to email@example.com