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December 14 2018
Failure to seize opportunities — India’s weakness
04 September 2018

Performing under pressure, being ruthless is what separates great teams from good ones

India returned from South Africa early this year with the feeling that it had come tantalizingly close to a series victory.

The margins of defeat in the first two Tests had not been big, but more notable was the sense that there had been moments in those matches when India had had more than a foot in the door.

What-ifs

Virat Kohli's men will head into the fifth Test at the Oval with the same sense of disappointment, the same regrets, the same what-ifs.

But there is also something to be said for performing under pressure, for seizing the smallest opportunities, for being ruthless: it is what separates great teams from good ones.

 

It is where India has failed.

At Edgbaston, England was 87 for seven in the second innings, leading by only 100 runs. But Sam Curran smashed the ball around, and the home side wriggled out of a tight spot.

At the Ageas Bowl, England was 86 for six in the first innings; Curran intervened again. And when India, in reply, seemed set for a healthy lead at 142 for two, there was a batting collapse.

“We know that we have played good cricket but we cannot say again and again to ourselves that we have competed,” Kohli admitted later.

“When you come so close, there is an art of crossing the line as well, which we will have to learn.

“We have the ability, which is why we are getting close to a result.

“But when a pressure situation comes, how we react to it is something we have to work on a bit.

“We can look at the scoreboard and say we were only 30 runs away or 50 runs away, but we have to recognise that when we are in the midst of the situation, and not later.”

Openers come up short

India's weaknesses have been obvious. The openers — except in the Trent Bridge Test — have simply not made useful contributions.

K.L. Rahul is a gifted batsman — one with hundreds in all three formats, and capable of switching gears effortlessly.

But he now has a top score of 36 from his last 12 innings (excluding the Afghanistan Test), having failed to make a mark in South Africa or England.

This series, he has been troubled by the ball that jags back in, and England's bowlers have been merciless.

In the absence of Murali Vijay, there is a greater responsibility on Rahul; the team needs him to make big runs, now and in the future.

Shikhar Dhawan deserves some credit for showing the stomach for a fight after a poor first Test.

But the fact remains that his top score from six innings this series has been 44.

At Newlands, India was 39 for three chasing 208 for victory; at Edgbaston, 46 for three chasing 162; and on Sunday, 22 for three chasing 245.

Tests are not won this way.

It did not help that R. Ashwin, a proven match-winner, failed to impose himself in the same manner that Moeen Ali did. Anyone can have a bad day; unfortunately for India, Ashwin's struggles came in the worst possible circumstances.

England’s strength

Then, there has been the question of the lower middle-order.

Numbers six, seven and eight scored 48 runs in total for India in the fourth Test; batsmen in the same three positions added 278 runs to England's cause.

This highlights England's strength in depth — Jos Buttler and Curran are very good players to have at 7 and 8 — but it also illustrates that India cannot rely on anyone after Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane.

On Sunday, as Ultra Edge on the big screen confirmed that Kohli was indeed out, he trudged off wearily, too dejected to even respond to Stuart Broad's taunts.

Perhaps he knew, deep inside, that it was all over.

 

 

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