Whoever takes over from Virat Kohli as Test captain should listen to the post-match comments of South Africa captain Dean Elgar at Newlands. Elgar’s answer to a question on the Decision Review System (DRS) controversy which prompted the visiting team, led by skipper Kohli, to lose its cool and use the stump mic to vent their frustration at the host broadcaster should be edited by the video analyst and circulated by Kohli’s successor on his players’ Whatsapp group.
Elgar is the one who got the reprieve on Day Three in Cape Town. So his point of view from the middle is not the same as that of ‘people on the outside’, that group of armchair critics Kohli loves to bash at the drop of a hat.
This is what Elgar said in a nutshell.
“It was maybe a team under a bit of pressure and things weren’t going their way, which they aren’t quite used to of late… It played nicely into our hands that for a period of time, they forgot about the game and they were channeling a bit more of the emotional side of what Test cricket has to offer. I am extremely happy it happened that way,” the Proteas opener said.
He was inadvertently rubbing salt into the wounds of the Indian team which blew a chance to win its first-ever series in South Africa.
In Elgar’s words was also a lesson for the next Test skipper of India: Having a calm head on one’s shoulders is also an invaluable leadership trait.
The ball-tracking image showed the delivery going over the stumps, though it hit Elgar in front of middle stump and below the knee. Then all hell broke loose. One among Ravichandran Ashwin, the bowler who was denied, captain Kohli and vice-captain KL Rahul could have calmed the troops.
Instead what we got to see on television were champion cricketers behaving like a team of ill-mannered school boys. An international captain, bending down and talking into the stump mic, to make sure his criticism against a South African broadcaster is heard by everyone, was social media gold.
Ashwin, still fuming, said ‘you should find better ways to win, Supersport.’
Rahul perhaps took the cake when he chimed in with his ‘it’s the whole country against 11 guys’ comment. He perhaps was trying to draw an analogy with the 300 Spartans who went to war against the Persian army. Or some other mythical battle. But even ardent Rahul fans will find it over the top.
If Rahul gets the top job, he should take tips on how to exercise restraint over his emotions from his namesake in the dressing room, the newly-appointed head coach.
Ask an experienced sports producer with knowledge of how the DRS works and they will tell you that Elgar could have survived because of a human error by the person at the backend. There is simply not enough time for deliberate manipulation by a broadcaster.
If Kohli and his men hadn’t bought into the conspiracy theories floating in their heads, they would have looked at the scoreboard and realised that there was a game and a series still to be won.
South Africa were comfortable at 60 for 1 at that point, but the inexperienced batting order had to make another 152 runs to win the series. Instead of simply nodding their heads in disbelief and saying ‘let’s get on with it for now’. one of India’s greatest Test teams collectively said ‘let’s make a scene right now’. A team which pulled off one of the greatest upsets in Australia a year ago was letting a technology, which everyone knows is not 100 percent accurate, get to them.
Nothing more to give
In hindsight (after Kohli posted his resignation note on social media), the Indian captain’s flare-up about a DRS call was coming from a place of being emotionally drained. With the do-or-die Test match starting to slip away, it was also his last throw of the dice. When Kohli was at his best, being in conflict spurred him and, more often than not, the team rallied behind him to fashion memorable wins overseas and at home.
“If we had got charged up and picked up three wickets there, that would have probably been the moment that changed the game,” Kohli said after the series loss. This time it had the opposite effect – reflective of the captain who had nothing more to give after seven years at the helm.
Like Elgar said, post the ruckus in the middle, his team got some breathing space.
In the six overs following the DRS controversy, India conceded 10, 8 and 10 in three of them. This is not to say that the game and the series was lost during a small passage of play. Elgar fell in the last over of the day. On Day 4, the bowlers kept things tight and made life difficult for South Africa during periods of play, even for the brilliant Keegan Petersen and talented Rassie van der Dussen.
Not having enough runs to defend let the bowlers and the team down, and not for the first time.
The blame for the series loss must be laid at the feet of the Indian batters. For too long, the bowling attack has been carrying the misfiring middle order, which includes Kohli.
327 & 174, 202 & 266, 223 & 198 are not totals that will help one conquer a final frontier.
The selectors may soon take a call on some long-serving match-winners like Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane, who are going through a fallow period. Those waiting in the wings may or may not grab their opportunities. Filling big shoes won’t be easy. Kohli’s weakness outside the off-stump when the ball is moving remains and his century-less run continues. The series loss in South Africa has highlighted some home truths. The new captain and coach Dravid will have a lot on their mind and plate. The team needs calm minds with a clear roadmap to rebound after the mini-crisis. The in-your-face aggression that worked for Kohli, India’s most successful Test captain, may not come naturally to his successor.
This is also a good time for Team India to ditch the ‘us versus the world’ narrative at the slightest provocation.
Listening to Elgar’s post-match comments will tell them why.