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Sanjay Manjrekar

Let's not be too harsh on Virat and Co

To play well, India need to plan well

Sanjay Manjrekar
Sanjay Manjrekar
Hardik Pandya may have been dismissed attempting to play a ramp off Lungi Ngidi, but his choice of shot is not as objectionable as it is being made out to be  •  AFP

Hardik Pandya may have been dismissed attempting to play a ramp off Lungi Ngidi, but his choice of shot is not as objectionable as it is being made out to be  •  AFP

Indian fans are up in arms. Their team has just lost a three-Test match series in South Africa with one game still to go.
Obviously the defeat of the team they support will sadden them, make a few angry. That's understandable, but is it fair on the team?
As far as I am concerned, the Virat Kohli-led Indian team gave their best, just like all the Indian teams that went to South Africa before, but what keeps happening there is, India's best is just not good enough.
When we blame Indian players for their losses in South Africa or elsewhere overseas, are we saying that when they win at home they give their 100% and that they don't do the same overseas?
No, India have not lost another series in South Africa for lack of trying. In fact, the one thing that is clearly evident with this team, led from the front by its captain, is effort. In fact, a desperate effort to win.
Perhaps some of us felt that this Indian team was going to be different because of the way they were winning at home by big margins, and against top teams too.
So once again it has been proved that dominance at home has no connection with success overseas, and if we were expecting success overseas because India are now ranked No. 1 after a great home run, it's us being naive about the game.
I see fingers pointed at selections of playing XIs on this tour, and that has been thrown up as an important reason for the loss.
Yes, Kohli makes some interesting, unexpected, controversial selections, that people might also find illogical. I am one of those people, but what about the more predictable, more universally acceptable selections made by Indian captains on the five trips to South Africa before this one? Did they save India from defeats? No, this is more than just selection mistakes.
The bowling has been spared from too much criticism this time, but the effort, and yes, choice of shots of the Indian batsmen, especially in the second innings in Centurion, is being held culpable for the loss.
Just to give you an insight into how a batsman thinks, and to defend players against these allegations, I will pick two batsmen who seemingly played loose shots.
KL Rahul was stuck on 4 off 28 balls, battling away against the South Africa fast bowlers with the new ball, so when the least experienced bowler started a new spell, Rahul saw an opportunity to score.
He knew that if he kept defending without scoring, there would come a ball that would be impossible to defend and he would get out. The Centurion pitch had become like that by day three.
Even while playing at home, India must try and improve as a team overseas. Stop picking players who are home-track bullies and select only those who are potentially versatile
He decided to go after the first ball of Lungi Ngidi's spell in the second innings. Sound thinking, I thought; just that he was deceived by the slowness of the ball and was caught at point.
It was Rahul's first game in South Africa, his instincts were still not South African, and this can be said about the rest of the team too. Now can you be too critical of Rahul?
Let's talk about Hardik Pandya and how he got out playing a T20 kind of ramp shot at a crucial stage of the game.
Well, he played that shot a few times to get boundaries in Newlands and it was shots like this and his unorthodoxy that had South Africa rattled when he got 93 in that match.
He was applauded at the time, so was he wrong to employ the same tactics here, especially when the match was already in South Africa's corner? He also played that ramp shot only after the the fly slip was removed, so he was being sensible in trying to be adventurous.
The two pitches so far have had a lot for the bowlers. This is indicated by the fact that the South Africa batsmen too, playing on home turf, were not able to get their team 400s and 500s.
I guess what I am trying to say here is that the problem of overseas failures is not going to be solved by finding fault with team selection, or attitude, or execution of skills. That's just scratching the surface.
I tweeted after the second Test match that when India lose overseas, it's not a team issue, it's an Indian cricket issue that they have failed to resolve for a long time. I remember expressing the same thought when India were facing similar setbacks overseas in 2011: I said that it's time Indian cricket set a goal - a long-term goal for, say, the next ten years, to win series in South Africa, England, Australia and New Zealand.
I know there aren't many teams today that win away from home. South Africa, despite the quota system, have the best record in this regard this decade. Among the major teams, India have a middling overseas winning percentage in that period, below that of Pakistan.
If India want to do something about this, they must set that as a goal first. Not just pay lip service by saying that they need to win more away from home, but show intent and do all the necessary planning around it. Even while playing at home, they must try and improve as a team overseas. Stop picking players who are home-track bullies and select only those who are potentially versatile. It's easy for the trained eye to recognise such players.
The A tours could continue but the senior team's schedule has to be planned properly. This is not going to be easy, I don't live in a fool's paradise, but here's an example of how you can tweak it in the current set-up.
When India were playing Sri Lanka at home earlier this season, the key Test players could have been sent to South Africa much earlier. That's an imperative if you are to compete overseas. You must develop instincts of the places you are visiting to excel in those countries, and that will happen only if you spend enough time there.
A second-string Indian team would have been good enough to beat Sri Lanka. And even in the worst-case scenario, if India had lost against Sri Lanka but won in South Africa, it would have been a great bargain, even for the fans.
Indian cricket needs to make a few sacrifices, commercially as well, for in the long run this will prove profitable for everyone. When India start winning around the world, their brand will have that much more value in the eyes of the fans.
Indian cricket disappoints fans when the team wins handsomely at home and keeps losing overseas.This was acceptable in the 1980s, not in 2018.

Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar is a cricket commentator and presenter on TV. @sanjaymanjrekar