In his press conferences, Virat Kohli loves to repeat the fact that his team is very flexible, especially in the batting department.
If you break down this so-called flexibility in over the past four Test series India have played, it shows that all of India’s Top 5 batsmen who played the forgettable Lord’s Test against England have been dropped from the team at least once. Shikhar Dhawan leads the pack by getting dropped in three of the last four series India has played.
The only series where he didn’t get dropped after playing a game was the one-off Test against Afghanistan. This begs the question, is it flexibility or is Kohli not sure of whom to cast for a gig and instead of figuring it out behind the scenes, he is desperately and impatiently trying to figure it out on the main stage with the spotlights on.
More importantly, could it be possible that by subjecting them to this insecurity and uncertainty, Kohli is compounding the difficulty of facing high-quality bowling attack in alien conditions? One may argue that he is following horses for courses policy which to my mind is a great policy, but only if you are selecting racehorses. Humans need slightly different treatment.
Kohli needs to decide the horses he is willing to bet on and then back them to the hilt. As sports fans, we have this tendency to believe the results of lost games could have been different if only some selection decisions were taken differently. Although one can't deny the impact of having the right team, there is seldom reason to believe one man could have overturned a game.
As captain, Kohli can't entertain the fancies of a few fans and experts. If Kohli thinks Rohit Sharma is good for Test cricket, then he should give him a couple of series at least to settle in and prove it. After all, that's how Rohit came along in the shorter format of the game and became a match winner for the team. If Kohli likes the attacking option Dhawan gives him at the top, then he must let the Delhi southpaw know that he is expected to play his natural game and a few failures won't push him out of the team. That's how Sourav Ganguly nurtured Virender Sehwag and turned him into one of the best openers of all time.
Good teams generally have a squad and a bench that are all equally capable of winning games. Brad Hodge played just six Tests for Australia and averaged 55.88. Should he have played more? Yes. Did the mighty Australian team of his era lose games because of his exclusion? No.
Sometimes the job of selection is about picking the best among equals. Who knows how good Hodge may have been if he had played 50 Tests. Healthy competition for places in the team is a great luxury, but that shouldn't mean that every player is looking at the axe all the time and is scared to fail every time he goes out to the middle.
To make matters worse for this Indian team, it's not always a failure that will keep you out, sometimes a player will fall out of grace for no real fault of his own. Picking two spinners at Lord's was Kohli's prerogative. He may have seen something in the pitch before deciding to pick Kuldeep Yadav over Umesh Yadav, and who knows if weather and Indian batsmen had allowed the game to go on till the fifth day, spinners might have got some assistance from the pitch and played a role in the game. But, in selecting Kuldeep over Ravindra Jadeja, who has been India's second choice spinner in Test cricket for past many seasons and has performed his duties admirably, Kohli was guilty of giving undue importance to Yadav's exploits in the shorter formats of the game.
Leaders are supposed to know their men inside out. Ask a successful manager, and he will stack rank each individual in his team from top to bottom at the drop of a hat. Kohli probably needs to do the same and figure out the stack ranking for his men real soon. That will save him from the needless exercise of analysing the performance of every player game by game.
As followers of the game, it will be unfair for us to expect miracles from the team. In sports, bitter losses like the one at Lord's are part and parcel of the game. What we should be looking for is long-term gains, and a coherent selection policy goes a long way in promising that. For example, giving more emphasis on fitness in making selection is a policy one can get behind, revolving doors in the opening slot isn't. First one is an actual policy, second is a Hail Mary before every game in the name of flexibility.
Kohli hasn’t played an unchanged eleven for two consecutive Tests in his 37 games as captain. With three games left in the ongoing series, the item on top of my personal wishlist is to see if Kohli can play the same team for all three Tests irrespective of a win or a loss.