Time for the change is here: React or Perish

The Indian Test team stands reeling with multiple on and off-field problems, which must be resolved with care and honesty at the cross roads of an imminent transition phase. 
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Shubman Gill has a frontfoot problem. Growing up practising millions of short-pitched deliveries and developing his game on Mohali's pace-dominant realm, the young prodigy stands firm on anything remotely shy of the good length area. But the 23-year-old hasn't been able to build his forward defensive game to as near-perfect degree as his backfoot range. 

Gill has now played 16 Tests for India and averages 32.89. Even as he has aced the limited-overs game in his young career so far, consistent Test match success has eluded the world's finest young player since his remarkable debut series in Australia. 

On both occasions at the WTC final at The Oval, he was out misjudging a full-length ball. Gill's twin dismissals, once, undone by late inward movement on a fated leave, while sent back with a caught behind on an away swinger on the second, only exposed Gill's persistent frontfoot issues against the moving ball. 

Injuries haven't helped, for they have derailed the cricketer's progression and egged on his growth. At the pink of his form, he missed a series in South Africa where that same backfoot game could've come in real handy, for example. 

But here's the thing: Shubman Gill has been part of the set-up under Rahul Dravid, including a sustained period with the 'A' side, for the last five years and has gone through a spree of professional coaching backed by multi-million investment under the world's richest cricket board. Why hasn't this problem been (a) - identified and (b) addressed to ensure Gill had a smoother transition to the Test match game facing opposition attacks with unprecedented pace and spin depth? 

Gill's struggle only symbolises the frustration an Indian fan carries with the existing Indian set-up. Here's a young cricketer whose wings are tamed by a potential career-halting problem - for Test cricket's single most frequent mode of operation with the ball remains the one pitched up in line with the top of off-stump - and nothing concrete has been done to absolve him of the plague and expand his range of play to withstand world-class seam bowling. 

Dravid wore the most dignified face when presented with tough questions by his two former peers Sourav Ganguly and Harbhajan Singh moments after the defeat was confirmed at The Oval. The truthful and honest responses with an analytical outlook kept when it could've been easy to sway away with the emotional backdrop of the 208-run thumping was befitting of the man's stature and character. He has only taken those virtues forward from his playing days. 

But also during Dravid's playing days, India won multiple tosses on Day 1 of an overseas Test with more than the 6 mm grass available for seamers at The Oval for this WTC final. Each time, be it under Ganguly or Dravid, India would bat first, back their traditional strength to stand up to the task against hostile bowling, with Dravid leading the pack on lot of the occasions. It enriched his body of work and marked his greatness. 

How come, then, under the same man India opted to bowl first with the overcast skies leaving shores in just over an hour from the beginning of the morning session, paying way for bright sunshine on the driest surface India have encountered in England since Dravid retired? The context to history only gets more relevant with the fact that India have aced just one 100+ run-chase in the SENA countries in the last 20 years. At the Gabba. 

It was an elementary mistake, which brutally exposed India's softer underbelly - their seam bowling. With Jasprit Bumrah ruled out, and a worn-out Ishant Sharma no longer part of the plans, India were always walking a thin rope on the brink of collapse with their brittle and inconsistent fast-bowling resources. None of Mohammad Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Umesh Yadav and Shardul Thakur could pose a match to the sustained pressure and incisiveness on display from Pat Cummins and Scott Boland. 

Suited to exploit the uneven subcontinent tracks with their lower-arm release and skiddiness, neither the Indian pace quartet had the chance to bowl in conditions when the track would amplify their strengths nor they could find any hiding space or avoid being brutally outperformed by their opposition counterparts. 

Of the four, Siraj continues to evoke positivity on his promise. But the time's run out for Shami with his persistent overseas struggles. Raved over with his dead-straight seam position, Shami continues to carry the 'Unlucky Shami' tag for continuously beating the edge without getting the desired results. But the problem with the experienced seamer has been simple: his natural short of good length operation is bound to miss the edge. Shami bowls the same length regardless of the conditions in play. There are oohs and aahs, hands on the head, the smirk offered to the batter. But the wicket column remains empty. He averages a woeful 40.50 in England in near-perfect bowling conditions over five trips and 14 Tests.


Shami's England and overall overseas trails have gone unchecked for over a decade now. It's an issue Dravid was expected to carefully resolve by either pointing to the seamer the chink his armoury or simply axe him out from plans abroad. Once there, the coach may have also taken a decision on Umesh Yadav. For large part of his career, Umesh has complained for lack of opportunities abroad. But that is with good reason, for the seamer's control and consistency continue to give away premium runs to the opposition. The earnest right-arm quick now has a SENA average of 41.41 and an economy rate of 4.04 across 28 innings and 15 Tests. 

Both Shami and Umesh being part of an overseas attack was a recipe for disaster in the waiting, which then gave the younger Siraj no window of respite with his problems with inconsistency - something the pacer got in abundance when he bowled with the Bumrah cushion. Bumrah wasn't the single component of the Indian attack, he was the Indian attack in himself. In his presence, backed by Ishant 2.0, India had two world-class operators for overseas realms during the Bharat Arun era. 

The mythical proportion Bharat's influence on Indian bowling has reached over time has inspired direct criticism of Paras Mhambrey, whose ascent from the junior and India 'A' set-up has coincided with a decline in India's pace fortunes outside the country. Seldom do we acknowledge or care to recognise Mhambrey may have faltered, but is he really falling with Bharat's most capable tutees? Even the Bharat Arun magic worked itself on India's most able and skilful. 

None of the WTC final presentees were ever ones to offer India control and precision even during his times. From the start of 2015 till September 2021, none of Shami and Umesh, or Siraj and Thakur offered India leash below 3 runs an over. Shami and Umesh went for 3.17 and 3.32 an over, respectively, while Siraj and Thakur conceded runs at a more costly 3.34 and 3.54 at their end. India can replace Mhambrey today with any esteemed big-name coach of their choice, or even bring back Arun, these pacers will still offer India no control and will spray the ball around without an umbrella provided by an ace speedster of Bumrah's calibre. 

Thakur's appearance at the WTC final retriggered a longstanding debate on his spot ahead of premier spinner and No.8 Ravichandran Ashwin, who would've been ideal to bolster India's stocks and strength to at least delay the inevitable. Despite Thakur evoking the image of a steadfast and resolute cricketer with brash confidence on his limited abilities, few wouldn't argue Ashwin had to play. Dravid faltered in recognising the better cog for the wheel, with a rich body of work, carrying the best average for a spinner in the SENA countries since 2018 and batting prowess that has paved the way for five centuries and multiple impactful contributions. 

Thakur keeping Ashwin out is a travesty of cricketing logic. He plays as the fourth seamer, who is supposed to provide you control, but regularly goes for 4 an over. When he comes out to bat, he tends to warm the easily excited and irrationally invested Indian fan with his belligerence. But offers India little depth and defensive acumen, which would allow them to stretch their stays in the middle with specialists at the other end able to delay risks and continue batting. For all his razzmatazz and aggression, and fifties made at the Gabba and thrice now at The Oval, this is a No.8 averaging 20.33 with just above five overs per knock batted in the middle across 9 Tests and 16 innings. 

Blindly following a pattern of selection without batting an eye-lid on the conditions on offer or India's weakfootedness and depth in either department, and the body of work in such obvious calibre and pedigree such as Ashwin, was a horrifying mistake from Dravid and Rohit. And all this doesn't even take into account the persisting batting frailties, which run in abundance in a middle-order short on steam and relevant impact for the best part of three and a half years since the pandemic hit the world on its sheens. 

All three of Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane have endured a sustained and irrevocable decline. Pujara batting No.3 has been hit the worst with the rise of the fast-bowling pandemic. A defensive player with great attributes of resilience and defiance against hostile bowling, Pujara hasn't been able to leave his imprint on games outside the famous 2020-21 Australian series. He is averaging a pedestrian 29.89 for the last 52 innings played in the Covid era. 

At his best, Pujara could firm-up one end, face an alarmingly high number of balls in premium times of a Test match and allow the game to tilt India's way at the other end. But even his immense powers of concentration seems to have eluded the gritty warrior now while his technical deficiencies have stood laid bare as his critical first-innings average for the phase has fallen below 22 with just about 10 overs batted in the middle. Pujara is no longer impacting Test match games for India. 

Then there is Rahane, dropped after an unarrested dip following the trip to South Africa but recalled at The Oval amidst spree of injuries to Rishabh Pant, KL Rahul and Shreyas Iyer. The elegant player made his opportunity count quite astutely against Australia and could be in for a fresh lease of life offered to him. But India must not forget this is a player they dropped for a reason: his lack of dependability and overall inconsistency with the bat. It is very unlikely Rahane would find a late wing to his career now after spending his supposed peak years struggling at the Test level. Being careful and cautioned before cultivating thoughts of taking the same cricketer back to South Africa on performance at The Oval would be in the best interest of a team that desperately needs to approach change with acceptance and honesty. Both words are key, for if you merely talk up the two, you temporarily flirt with success without building a base there.

It could be the cue to Virat Kohli's career if it is to ever find that late wing we tend to speak of. Kohli has been a pale show of his consistent and dominant self for the past three years now. Since the beginning of 2020, he is averaging 29.69 over 25 Tests and 44 innings. Take out his solitary hundred for the phase on the flattest home deck this Indian team have churned out in Ahmedabad this year, the average falls to 25.37. 

More than the numbers, it is the stubbornness on display from Kohli which has been baffling and equally worrying on the outside. The cricketer is absolutely convinced within his head he has no problems with his technique and overall approach at the crease when the cracks continue to emerge and be exposed against unrelenting attacks in tough conditions to his longstanding method of batting on the frontfoot. Regardess of the length, Kohli is on the frontfoot with a stance held one step outside the crease and weight constantly pushing ahead with that front press.

The shelf life of this method has run its course. It once allowed Kohli to cut down swing by forcing the seamers to bowl shorter. But the record vindicates, the deeper he has gone into the bowling era, the limitations and the cons of his ploy have been brutally found out. 

His dismissal in the first-innings against Starc and then Boland in the second summed up a career problem with the man, for in the first, Kohli was trying to ride the bounce of a steep rising ball that reared off the short of good length region with both his legs stretching upwards from well outside the crease. 

In the second, he got out chasing a ball as far wide as the seventh stump for not the first time in his career as he simply couldn't help but feel for the delivery with his weight unerringly convincing his brain-tank to go hard at the ball. It was the widest delivery he has chased in England since 2018 and carried minimal wicket-taking likelihood. 

To think about it: this is a bonafide modern-day legend getting out playing two ordinary strokes with the world watching and failing to recognise, accept and address a longstanding chink in his armoury. Kohli refuses to change, not realising nothing would change till he changes. 

The Indian think-tank can't be pragmatically expected to drop Kohli, though, without receiving the angst of the globe their way. But they could've tried opening communication channels on the technical front and lead discussions based around a tweak in his batting number and basic entry points to say No.5, facing an older ball that offers him some respite. Similar treatment to Pujara may have eased his life also. But nothing has been done. The Indian team have entered each Test with Pujara and Kohli going through familiar strife only to suffer the same fate with the two. 

Their fortunes have run dry, and so have the Indian team's in the backdrop of multiple administrative and cricketing failings, accentuated by the Covid era, where the decline in the standards of first-class cricket and drought in the supply of 'A tours, which enabled playing depth, have left the team handicapped with no immediate ready backups and solution to the defining set of problems that scourge this side. Why, when Pant got sidelined, they went back ages in their wicketkeeper-batter strength with the unconvincing KS Bharat. 

The Ranji Trophy has been severally impacted by the logistical hurdles amidst the viral outbreak, with the league groups heavily compromised and the Elite-Plate divide going for a toss. It has benefitted multiple young hopefuls to bolster their cases with bumper runs against shallow bowling attacks. As harsh as it may sound on a Sarfaraz Khan, nothing about his basic defensive technique suggests of a player who can walk into this Indian team and absolve it of the middle-order muddle. 

The selection panel, which has been contentiously missing a formal chief selector, and the management, have been mindful of the filter no longer existing and don't feel inspired to make immediate changes. The crux of the cause of offering comebacks to Pujara and Rahane when they looked done and gone for all money. 

Going back to the tried and tested, and brittle, unfit and the failed, was a trend that marked the 2011 disasters as well. But there is hope: this is no 2011. The Covid is receding, the Ranji Trophy is gradually recovering on its feet. Backups can be found for long-term vibrancy and resurgence of the side with home and away 'A' tours hopefully back in the wings. The yo-yo test must be revived, for you need no longer cater for enlarged squads with Covid backups every series and there is a genuine dearth of super-fit athletes in the current team. 

The playing misfits must be removed with focus mainly panned on extracting a core built on promising youngsters Gill, Siraj, Yashasvi Jaiswal & co spread around Kohli, Rohit, Ashwin, Jadeja, Bumrah and Pant when he comes back. You need a chief selector with vision for the next decade, a BCCI regime focused not on ICC wealth but in maximising its existing riches by re-investing in the grassroots game and strengthening the domestic competitions, especially the Ranji Trophy. 

India's premier first-class competition can't be a platform for the spread of wealth and employment opportunities across 38 uneven teams. It needs to challenge and embolden its elite playing units and carve out the weakest and the irrelevant, and use the red dukes in at least a few rounds to open doors for allround skill growth and technical combativeness so often the difference overseas. 

All this, and the appointment of the next coach, must be approached with a level of integrity and conscientiousness. Far too often Indian cricket has tended to judge its success on economics and flexed its financial wealth, when the fans crave nothing but on-field affluence and couldn't care less for your profit and loss statements. They command honest service to the game from its governors and demand playing wealth which might end the long, frustrating wait for the silverware. Either way, the time for the change is here: react, they must, or perish.