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Lessons to Learn for Young India, Kohli

When Virat Kohli finally ceded on Day Five and accepted that there was no way for India to win the second test at Sabina Park, there was a clear sense of disappointment. All the talk after bludgeoning the Caribbean side in the first test was of a 4-0 whitewash. Like most bullies, their chests were puffed out because they were too naive and arrogant to think that something could go wrong. There was no Gaylestorm in sight, no Ambrose or Walsh to test them. Even Sir Viv and Ian Bishop were merely seated in the commentary box in their broadcast attire.

But alas, there was the unpredictability of test cricket. Just when the bullies were ready to walk all over their seemingly feeble opponents, a tropical storm stole one hundred overs worth. Jermaine Blackwood provided a counterattack that was in very much the same vein as the one he provided in the first innings. And then there was Roston Chase. A century of grit, composure, and elegance in just his second test that not only frustrated India, but inspired Dowrich and Holder to the carry the fight with him.

What India forgot was that there is no one that loves spoiling an Indian party like the West Indies. Sachin’s final test appeared destined to end with a century in front of his home crowd in Mumbai, but that’s when Darren Sammy snaffled a sharp chance at slip to send Sachin packing for 74, a nation into silence, some, into mourning.

When India setup a competitive 192 in the World T20 semifinal, and had Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels back in the pavilion with just 19 on the board, the Windies still found a way to break Indian hearts. Once again, Mumbai was the main witness to the crime.

When Virat Kohli declared that India were targeting a 4-0 sweep, he inadvertently set a goal for the West Indies as well. Prevent 0-4. It’s along the same lines as when a team that’s already relegated in a football league still has a fixture to play against someone still competing for the title. It’s a chance to play spoiler. In the words of Darren Sammy, “everyone seems to forget that Goliath lost”. There is something to the ‘David mindset’ that pushes people to fight in a way no one expects.

India probably won’t lose this series. They didn’t even lose this match. What they lost was an opportunity. The type of opportunity Virat Kohli believed his young side were ready to capitalize on.

“We are not at a stage now where we need to come and improve. We should be ready enough in international cricket to start dominating test matches and win those crucial situations and sessions. That’s how we become a better team. If you think we are going to keep learning every series, learning every game, we will never get that hunger and that mindset to win games from difficult situations”.

Sorry to say, but this is another learning moment for Virat and his team. This is still a young team. A team whose vice-captain is only 24 tests young. Their best pacer and spinner have combined for less than 50 tests. Questions still remain over whether or not their wicketkeeper’s batting is of international standard.

Kohli’s comments stem from a unique hunger and desire to win that is undoubtedly pleasing to Indian fans. For decades, India have played the role of Mr. Nice Guy. Kohli brings a fight that has been growing and evolving since Ganguly’s days as captain. It’s here to stay, and over the long haul, India will continue to improve.

There is nothing wrong with continuing to learn through this period though. Let aggression be a mindset, but let learning and evolving keep its place. What India’s captain could learn from this is about managing expectations.

In Sir Alex Ferguson’s ‘Leading’, the illustrious manager revealed how he learned from a similar experience. He described a story in which he was managing St. Mirren in his first season, and the team won eight games in a row. In his words, “I was feeling buoyant and told the press that we would not lose a game for the rest of the season”. The team only won one game the rest of the way and finished the season in sixth place.

In Ferguson’s case, in addition to the pressure within his own dressing room, the opposition was given an unnecessary bullseye to target. With this lesson learned, he never said that United would be targeting the top four in the English league, or the semifinals of the Champions League. He learned that this placed an unnecessary pressure on everyone involved. The only precedent he set was that Manchester United played to win one of the four to six trophies they competed for every season, with no higher importance placed on any particular trophy.

Some pressure and expectation is good, too much of anything is always bad.

There were moments within the game that India could have capitalized on better. The same moments Kohli felt his team were ready to dominate.

It started on Day Four, when India were looking to ensure they wouldn’t have to bat a second time. The big picture showed that India batting at just 2.92 runs per over was too slow and consuming 171.1 overs was far too many. Did India really need the psychological boost of getting to 500? A lead in excess of 300? Was allowing Rahane to reach his century that crucial from a team perspective? They knew a tropical storm was coming. Even after Rahane completed his century, why did they keep batting? In the grand scheme of things it was only another 11 deliveries, but it ended with Chase picking up a maiden five-wicket haul. We know now what he would go on to accomplish, so did he really need this psychological boost?

Again, hindsight is 20/20. What Kohli must understand is that these are the hard questions that must be asked in order to learn, in order to grow.

Quite a few people have commented and written about how India lacked a Plan B on the final day. Yes it was disappointing to see that they didn’t have different tactics to resort to (another learning moment), but there was also a failure to commit to Plan A.

After Blackwood’s onslaught in the first innings, it would have been foolish to expect anything different in the second innings. For whatever reason, India and Virat Kohli did. They kept aggressive fields and kept encouraging his shot making. West Indies scored 40 off the first four overs of the day, and 92 off the first 16 overs. The ball had gone soft, and on a dead pitch, it offered little hope to the bowlers.

Anil Kumble admitted to this after the match. “Initially, since we had 300 runs on the board, we were attacking and they came hard at us as well, and they got away in the first five or six overs. They got a lot of runs. And once that one or one-and-a-half-hour period happened, I believe the ball went a bit soft as well. So it was quite difficult to get the purchase that we were getting yesterday and the conditions were different. It was cloudy, there was some rain about and there was a lot more swing. So in that sense, we could have probably adapted better.”

By the time Blackwood had been dismissed for a 54-ball-63, significant damage had been done. While Dowrich and Chase settled themselves, India unnerved themselves. India’s wicket-taking thus far in the series came as a result of immaculate discipline. A focus that bowling for each other and bowling to a plan would reap the ultimate reward, ten wickets for the team.

As their limited time ticked away, frustration grew and India looked for heroes. One person to bowl a magic ball, rather than two or three bowlers combining to induce a false shot. It’s hard to blame them, again, it’s all a part of a learning curve that still exists for this team. As their former test captain once said, “you won’t always get the results if you are not looking into the process”.

India’s target of 4-0 is now gone, and as a result, they have failed to achieve their objective. For the West Indies, they battled and forced their way to a moral victory India helped setup. Now, they have reason to believe they can do more. For India, the remainder of the test series will be about moral victories, looking to avenge a draw they deemed a failure after one test.

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