Oh dear! It's 2-0, again. Is it the year 2011? No. Is MS Dhoni still the captain? No! A casual fan can be excused of such shocking reactions after India's recent humiliation at Lord's. Especially since India is the No.1 ranked Test side with the world's current best batsman at the helm.
After playing less than seven days of Test cricket, the Indian team has now lost two successive Tests on English soil which makes it five losses in a row in England extending up to the horrific 2014 tour. Indian cricket fans can, therefore, be forgiven if the scenes at Lord's of their million-dollar batsmen surrendering to the swing of James Anderson and Stuart Broad reignite the memories of the horror of 2014 or 2011. What is most amusing is that less than two weeks ago, the same Indian team was being billed by experts as the greatest challenge the hosts have faced in recent times. How did it come to this, you might be wondering. There is no doubt that as a team you are always going to win some and lose some. But the manner of the Lord's defeat is what has angered and shocked many around the cricket world. (Also Read: Not proud of the way we played, says Virat Kohli after Lord's debacle)
A number of questions arise from Lord's. Are the batsmen totally incapable to counter swing and seam in tough English conditions? Is the constant tinkering with the playing XI responsible for the poor showing of Indian batsmen? What has been the role of the team management including the head coach Ravi Shastri and batting coach Sanjay Bangar in avoiding such an embarrassing defeat? Where do we go from here? Is 5-0 a possibility? The answers to these questions and many others lie in the thinking that goes behind forming a core group of players capable of winning you matches and sticking to it.
No doubt, Virat Kohli has a number of talented players at his disposal - so many that he has been spoilt for choices at times. But zeroing in on the winning bunch of players is something that both Kohli and head coach Shastri have been unable to achieve till now. This team has won Tests in tough foreign conditions before - most recently in Johannesburg, a pitch which was so difficult to bat on that the hosts' battered and bruised opener Dean Elgar said that the match should have been called off. A green pitch at Lord's itself was witness to a famous Indian win the last time they played here in 2014.
Players like Murali Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane who formed the core of both these wins, however, failed miserably at Lord's this time. This doesn't mean that they have become bad players overnight. The problem actually lies elsewhere. (Also Read: Virat Kohli admits to selection error at Lord's, urges batsmen to 'keep it simple')
Kohli has now under his captaincy, fielded 37 different playing XIs in an equal number of Tests while leading the team, which is a staggering statistic in itself and provides the clues to a number of issues plaguing the team at the moment. Though a number of these team changes have been forced upon him due to injuries to players, horses-for-courses theory and players opting out due to personal reasons, more often than not it has been the captain and the team management which has inexplicably left out a player in favour of another and then left to pick up the pieces after a heavy defeat.
Take the case of Shikhar Dhawan for an example. In the first Test in South Africa at Cape Town, he was dismissed for 16 in both the innings and was subsequently dropped for the next two Tests with KL Rahul replacing him as the partner of Murali Vijay. Rahul though couldn't cross 16 either in the two Tests he played. For India's next Test against Afghanistan, in the absence of Kohli, Dhawan was back as an opener and scored a century. The left-hander would have thought that this would have cemented his place in the side, at least for a few more matches. But after failing in the first match of the current series at Birmingham, Dhawan was dropped again in favour of Rahul.
Another intriguing case has been that of Bhuvneshwar Kumar. The swinger from Meerut was dropped inexplicably after taking six wickets in the first Test at Cape Town and brought in for the third Test after India lost the second. Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane have undergone the same fate as well in the past. (Also Read: Virender Sehwag, VVS Laxman slam Virat Kohli and Co after humiliation at Lord's)
These incidents matter because a longer run in the team is instrumental in giving confidence to the players. Former India opener Virender Sehwag is a prime example of this. He had the support of his captain Sourav Ganguly behind him even during continuous failures as the latter believed that Sehwag had the ability to change the course of Test matches in a session. The results of this are part of history as the flamboyant opener emerged as a game-changer for India in Tests all around the world.
While Kohli has admitted to selection blunders post the Lord's defeat, accepting the mistakes alone isn't going to suffice.
John Buchanan, the former coach of the highly successful Australian team of the early 2000s, used to ask his players a lot of questions, such as what was their vision and what sort of legacy did they want to leave as a group? His mantra was: 'I've always said one of the healthy things in the Australian cricket team was the difference that existed between everybody.' Though it is also true that the then Australian team was filled with a number of world beaters which aided Buchanan's method, it takes nothing away from Buchanan's art of challenging his players and asking them to raise their standards when the situation demanded.
The current coach of the Indian team, Ravi Shastri, on the other hand, has never during his coaching tenure, said anything which doesn't toe Kohli's line of thinking. There is no evidence to suggest that Shastri has ever disagreed with Kohli on any decision the skipper has taken. It seems there is never a difference of opinion between the coach and the captain. This would certainly be considered healthy for the long-term targets of the team but during times of crisis like the current one, it always helps to have a different voice in the dressing-room. This is where Anil Kumble, the former coach, who had a public fallout with Kohli was different. India need someone like Kumble at the moment. If it means, Shastri overhauling his coaching methods, so be it.
Where do we go from here? With three Tests to go, and just four days left before the third one starts at Nottingham, there isn't much time left for the team to recover and mount a serious challenge. It is very important for them to realise that they don't need to reinvent the wheel. The recovery should start with the team management giving the confidence to the players that their positions in the team are not under threat for now. The batsmen on their part need to learn from the captain who himself has turned a poor record in England on its head with a scintillating 149 in Edgbaston.
When we talk about the greatest Test teams of all time, we mention the Australian Invincibles of the 1940s and 2000s along with the West Indians during 1975-1990. All these great teams were not defined by their rankings but the ability to win Test matches under any given conditions, all around the world. The current Indian team is nowhere near those great sides of the past, a fact that is clear after Lord's. It's also true that no other team in the world currently has an all-weather batting unit. Thus it is for Kohli and his men to decide whether they are satisfied with being No.1 or they want to leave a legacy for the generations to follow. Whatever the case may be, one thing is clear, the repair job has to start at Trent Bridge. For now, India has to do all they can to save this series. Being 2-0 down with no one except the captain scoring even a fifty makes it seem improbable for now. Almost as improbable as winning a match after following on against the greatest team of the era. A couple of Indian batsmen with strong self-beliefs have made the latter possible in 2001. Can India find such saviours again? Those are the kind of questions that India really need the answers to. Those are the questions, which when answered give birth to legacies.