On 24 January 2018, India went in to play on a difficult pitch in Johannesburg.
They were already 2-0 down in the series. South Africa picked an all-out pace attack to rub the Indian team into the dirt. However, the Indian team came out the winners.
On 27 February 2020, India faced a similar situation in Christchurch against New Zealand, on a green pitch, against an all-pace attack threatening to clean-sweep the team in this Test series.
At the end of Day 2, India are just 97 runs ahead in the third innings with only four wickets in hand. India will most likely lose this Test match.
What is the difference between the first instance in South Africa and the second instance in Christchurch? Why did the team win the Jo’burg Test and look highly unlikely to win the Christchurch Test?
It is the lack of self-belief in the team, and more importantly, the lack of self-belief of the team’s talisman, Virat Kohli. The team might have its Bumrahs or Shamis, but during challenging circumstances, this team looks up to its leader to stand in front and stand defiant.
Virat was in excellent form during the South Africa series. He led the team from the front. He spoke defiantly in the press conference. He pumped his team up to face the challenge, made runs in both the innings and carried his team through that Test.
However, in Christchurch, Kohli looked like a man lost in a thick rainforest. His ferocious demeanour, which stood out in Jo’burg, is missing in this series. He gave excuses in the press conferences rather than taking on the press with his usual defiant, combative style.
Apart from Virat, the only other leader in this team is Rohit Sharma. Unfortunately, his injury at the end of the T20 series and his absence after that coincided with the downfall of this team in this tour.
Rohit’s excellent batting form had been a big reason for India’s success in 2019. He was in superb form during the T20 series in NZ as well.
Other than Virat and Rohit, this Indian team lacks strong characters who can rally the team. The earlier generation had strong personalities, who led the team on different occasions. Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Virender Sehwag and Zaheer Khan were strong characters, who commanded respect within the group.
Even though Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane have been with the team for long periods now, they unfortunately have not blossomed into leaders within the team. Therefore, when the captain is in trouble, there is no one to shepherd the ship to safety.
When it comes to the bowling unit, again, there seems to be a lack of a natural leader. In the earlier generation, Zaheer took up the bowling leadership role during a match and guided the other bowlers. In this current unit, when they struggled in the ODI series and the first Test in Wellington, it did not look like they had a go-to person on the ground to come up with some new tricks.
Why is it that experienced players in the team are not transitioning to becoming leaders? Why it is that no one can stand up and lead the team when Virat is not at his best?
Over the years, the Indian team’s body language has been a precise predictor of its performance in the matches. When it had strong characters in its midst, they have found ways to come back and win.
However, when they looked meek, the result has often been a foregone conclusion. Even after restricting the Kiwis to a score below their first innings, the Indian batsmen did not come out to bat like those who were in the driver’s seat.
The Kiwis dominated them from the first over and are on the verge of another win in the World Test Championship.
Watching the game, even I did not believe that this team will bat the Kiwis out in the second innings.