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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Virat Kohli-led Indian cricket team far from a finished product: Five South Africa tour takeaways

Ahead of their visit to Sri Lanka, here are five points for India's selectors and team management to consider

India signed off their tour of South Africa with victory in the Twenty20 series at Newlands last week. Luke Walker / Getty Images
India signed off their tour of South Africa with victory in the Twenty20 series at Newlands last week. Luke Walker / Getty Images

With the Indian Premier League Twenty20 competition scheduled in the summer, there is not a lot of international cricket involving Virat Kohli’s men between now and when the tour of England begins in July. At least not yet.

There is the Nidahas Trophy, a triangular T20 tournament to be held in Sri Lanka from March 6-18, a Test against Afghanistan, followed by a T20 series in Ireland.

At this stage, Indian cricket is riding the crest of a wave after having completed a successful tour of South Africa, where they lost the Test series before rebounding quickly to clinch the two limited-overs series.

But there is room for improvement, as Kohli himself stated at the end of the tour. And ahead of their visit to Sri Lanka, here are five points for the Indian selectors and team management to consider.

Virat Kohli has been India's go-to guy in the Test matches lately. Themba Hadebe / AP Photo
Virat Kohli has been India's go-to guy in the Test matches lately. Themba Hadebe / AP Photo

Kohli needs more support

The Australia team from 1999 to 2007 were one of a kind, in that they had match-winners from numbers 1 to 11. But India have just one genuine superstar batsman in their Test line-up: Kohli. That is a problem.

The ODI side are much stronger, with Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and the ageing MS Dhoni capable of winning games on their own. But in the Tests, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane need to step up and provide more support to Kohli.

India won the series decider against Australia in Dharamshala in the absence of their captain, but there will be a crisis if he gets injured ahead of an overseas Test, particularly in the seaming conditions of England.

Suresh Raina is one of many India batsmen to have played at No 4. Christiaan Kotze / AFP
Suresh Raina is one of many India batsmen to have played at No 4. Christiaan Kotze / AFP

Shore up the middle order

This is an issue India face across formats, but more so in the limited overs where the No 4 batsman is required to bat through the middle overs and build an innings. Many players have been tried, including Suresh Raina, Dinesh Karthik, Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav and Hardik Pandya, but few have proved up to the task.

'Horses for courses' is not a bad selection strategy, but it works only when the conditions and situations differ greatly. Instead, the powers that be should pick one or two candidates for the slot and stick with them over the long run before, hopefully, one of them settles down.

The problem with Dinesh Karthik is he is neither a great keeper nor a great batsman. Amit Dave / Reuters
The problem with Dinesh Karthik is he is neither a great keeper nor a great batsman. Amit Dave / Reuters

Find a dependable second wicketkeeper

It is worrying to see the selectors having to fall back on Parthiv Patel and Dinesh Karthik whenever Wriddhiman Saha gets injured during a Test series, or when Dhoni is rested for a limited-overs tournament.

Parthiv and Karthik are both just 32 and still fit, but they are neither natural-born keepers nor great batsmen. It is why neither player has been able to nail down a place in the side despite both men making their India debuts before Dhoni did.

What made the former India captain click was his ability to change the course of a game with his bat. But over the years, his keeping also improved considerably. Parthiv and Karthik have been unable to emulate Dhoni, and it is time to look for long-term options.

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Hardik Pandya, right, needs to emulate Virat Kohli in substance. Marco Longari / AFP
Hardik Pandya, right, needs to emulate Virat Kohli in substance. Marco Longari / AFP

Pandya needs competition

Is Pandya overrated? He has impressed with bat and ball in all formats, but not consistently enough. His batting and bowling averages are OK. Besides, it can be argued he has not made an impact on the result of a game yet. His ability to lend balance to the XI has been talked up, but he is no more than a bits-and-pieces player. So calling him “the next Kapil Dev” is just not on. At least not yet.

Pandya also comes across as arrogant in his general demeanour, but unlike Kohli – who is also supremely self-confident – he has yet to back style with substance.

How do you get the best out of Pandya then? Given that he is competitive, India must play another all-rounder in his place. Even if it is a poor man’s Pandya. Just as a reality check for him. There are a few options in domestic cricket. Perhaps Vijay Shankar, who could play in Sri Lanka, may be the answer?

Manish Pandey, left, got an earful from MS Dhoni in the second Twenty20 match against South Africa. Christiaan Kotze / AFP
Manish Pandey, left, got an earful from MS Dhoni in the second Twenty20 match against South Africa. Christiaan Kotze / AFP

Youngsters must be made to feel a part of the team

Are the fringe players feeling left out?

Pandey said he was joking about going to a doctor to help him deal with the pressure of being on the sidelines, although he conceded “it’s a little tough. It works on your mind a lot”. He said this after top-scoring in the second T20 against the Proteas even as he got an earful from Dhoni for not being alert while going for a run.

In another instance of fringe players coming under fire, Jaidev Unadkat fielded a ball and swiftly threw it to the non-striker’s end. There was nothing wrong with the throw, except that Unadkat missed the stumps, but it prompted angry reactions from both Pandya and Kohli.

It is hard enough to break into this India side, but it seems just as difficult to keep one’s place in it – thanks in large part to Kohli’s selection policy.

But fear and intimidation will only breed more insecurity, especially if support and positive reinforcement from the seniors are in short supply.

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