India captain says the vice-captain, alongwith Pujara, remain India’s ‘most important batsmen’ in Tests
While acknowledging England’s dominance during the game, Virat Kohli asserted after the first Test that there will be no impulsive reactions from his team after a big defeat to start off the series. Kohli pointed that out on several fronts – in response to whether England were better prepared than the home team, whether India’s line-up needs any changing, and most pointedly at the suggestion that Ajinkya Rahane’s performances haven’t been up to standard.
In 14 innings since India’s Australia tour began – including two warm-up matches before the Tests – Rahane has made two centuries, one of them a Player-of-the-Match effort in Melbourne that helped India bounce back from the lows of being bowled out for 36 in Adelaide. In the other other 12 innings during that phase, Rahane’s highest score is 42, and he aggregated only a run during India’s loss to England. But India’s vice-captain remains, Kohli said, one of their most important batsmen.
“Look if you’re trying to dig something out, you’re not going to get anything because there’s nothing,” a visibly annoyed Kohli said in response to a question about Rahane’s performance during the post-match press conference. “I’ve said this many times in the past as well – along with Pujara, he [Rahane] is our most important Test batsman and he is going to continue to be. We believe in his abilities, we have believed in his abilities for a long time now and he’s an impact player.
“If you’re talking about the MCG Test, he stood up and scored a hundred when the team wanted it the most. So you can look at a number of innings and what happens from thereon, but the reality of the situation is they’ve won the series in Australia. Here there’s just one Test, two innings and both… today, yeah you can put that innings aside. But in the first innings, he wanted to score a boundary. It was a brilliant catch by Joe [Root] that got rid of him. So if that goes for a boundary, he gets runs in the first innings and we’re not having this conversation. There’s absolutely no issues, everyone’s playing really well and we just need to be focused a lot more, understand that Test victories are earned in any conditions – whether they’re your own or you’re playing away. Nothing is a given in Test cricket and we need to be aware of that reality and work together as a team to keep putting a lot of pressure on the opposition. That’s our focus.”
On a pitch that was widely acknowledged as a benign one during the first few days, India lost the toss and England batted into the seventh session of the match to take control. Kohli said India’s response to that 578, is where the match was lost, particularly due to a lack of any prolonged partnerships. He played down the suggestion that England were better prepared for this Test, given the recent series win in Sri Lanka in comparable conditions, and the fact that India last played Tests at home in November 2019.
“That’s something that was said when Australia won the first Test as well in 2017,” he said, in reference to India’s last Test defeat at home in Pune. “So look, we don’t jump the gun, we don’t come to conclusions too early.
“You could say they are well prepared but to say they’re better prepared than us in our own conditions is not an accurate assessment. If you look at the second innings, when the ball was really turning and bouncing, both the sides were pretty much similar in terms of how they went about their second innings. Maybe you can analyse then [after more games] whether we’re better prepared or they’re better prepared and whether this is our toughest challenge – we’re not jumping any guns yet and we’re just focused on playing good cricket and winning Test matches.”
“I’ve said this many times in the past as well – along with Pujara, he [Rahane] is our most important Test batsman and he is going to continue to be.”
A template that’s emerged with India’s batting – and was the bedrock of their famous recent wins – is that they have needed help from their lower-middle order to either rescue innings or finish things off. This was the case in the first innings of this Test, and to some degree in the second innings as well with Kohli himself playing the anchor. Kohli said that the difference was about 80 runs missed with the bat in the first innings, and about that much extra conceded with the ball during England’s first innings.
He put those down to their processes not going entirely right, while adding that not a lot of it would change either. There was no need to overthink their performances, he said, and that the reliance on the lower order was something India were looking at with a positive lens.
“There’s two ways to look at this. As top order batsmen, we have to take more responsibility and pride in the fact that we have to do most of the work,” he said. “But, if your lower order stands up on such a regular basis, it should give confidence to us as a team and as a whole batting unit that once we have big partnerships up front, then these guys will do their extra job at the back as well. Which makes our positions even stronger.
“We choose to look at the positives, regardless of what situation we’re in, and we will continue to do that moving forward. Not putting away the things that we need to improve on. We’re not a side that denies anything. We’re not a side that hides our faults or gives excuses. We accept defeat, things that have gone wrong, and we continuously strive to improve them and come back stronger and put in those performances that we as a side should be putting in every time we step onto the field.”
Varun Shetty is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo