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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 November 2018

India have too few players on the same page as Virat Kohli

World's top-ranked team are 2-0 down in five-match Test series against England. What really is at the core of India’s problems abroad is the aspect of the heart
India captain Virat Kohli suffered backaches during Lord's Test match. Reuters

How the narratives in the run-up to the ongoing Test series between England and India have changed after just two matches.

Before the first ball of the first match was bowled at Edgbaston, experts from both countries were backing India to win a first Test series on English soil in more than a decade.

The expectation was that a confident Indian squad, marshalled by a hyper-competitive leader, would prove too strong against a weak England side whose captain had yet to settle into his role.

There was a lot of talk about the conditions suiting the tourists, too. The United Kingdom had been reeling under a heat wave, as a consequence of which the pitches were expected be drier than usual, and therefore slower and more susceptible to turn.

As if England did not already have problems with their batting, there was also the Ben Stokes court trial – scheduled to begin after the first Test – hanging like a dark cloud over them.

Never mind that the level of preparation needed to win such a key series as this was lacking, for a combination of reasons; the fact England had their own problems augured well for India, the world’s top-ranked Test team.

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As it turns out, they lost the first two matches. They gift-wrapped a close game at Edgbaston thanks to some sorry batting performances in both innings, save for a brilliant century followed by a fighting half-century by their leader, Virat Kohli, while they capitulated in the next match at Lord’s.

Those likely to defend India’s performances at all costs will point to the fact that the conditions at Lord’s changed on the first day, with rain forcing play to be cancelled.

Damp conditions meant both teams had to drop the idea of picking a second spinner and reassess their strategies.

As fate would have it, India lost the toss and were made to bat first on a moist pitch, which England’s seamers – particularly the seasoned James Anderson – exploited brilliantly.

Had India won the toss and presumably sent England in, would things have been different?

Perhaps ... perhaps not. But the folly in thinking of what-ifs and finding excuses for losing, which the players themselves have thankfully resisted doing, is that this is not what Kohli and a handful of his teammates signed up for.

He, as well as the bowlers, have all worked hard and fought the good fight during this tour simply because they have shown more pride in wearing the Test whites. In particular, Ravichandran Ashwin deserves kudos for the way he has bowled and batted, even top-scoring in both innings at Lord’s.

Ravichandran Ashwin top-scored for India in both innings at Lord's. AFP

The same cannot be said about the rest of the squad.

Since India last topped the rankings seven years ago, their catching has been underwhelming although the ground fielding has improved. The bowling – historically not India’s strongest suit – has been excellent, too.

But the management has struggled to find solutions to the batting problems overseas, which have only got worse since Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Virender Sehwag retired within the space of two years.

In the face of England’s unrelenting bowling in this series, India’s totals have read 287, 180, 107 and 130, which illustrate the hollowness in the ranking system, in that India have risen to the top on the back of a successful season at home.

While what India did is commendable, it does not rate this team – or any other team – accurately.

India’s overall record overseas is poor: they have won just 46 of 259 Tests, losing 110 and with 103 drawn for a win percentage of 17.7. That percentage falls even further to 10 on the tours of England (played 59 matches, won six, lost 32, drawn 21).

There have been mitigating circumstances in this series, of course, such as the weather. But they only serve as excuses. What really is at the core of India’s problems abroad is the aspect of the heart.

For the team to be genuinely No 1, their players have to feel they are No 1. And it is clear they do not, judging from what Kohli had to say about the attitude of his teammates.

“It’s our job and our duty to play for the country, and we should be better than that,” he said at Lord’s. “Unless you accept that, you can’t improve and compete. We have to accept what we did wrong – mistakes have been made – and not repeat them again.”

Kohli is a man of high self-esteem who wants to be known as the best – the best batsman and leader of the best team in the world. The problem is not every one is on the same page as he is.