LONDON: Virat Kohli does most things right as a cricketer, but when it comes to captaincy, sometimes he takes the route less travelled.
Till Thursday at Lord’s, there was a definite case for playing two spinners and the skipper said it was a “tempting option”. It hadn’t rained much in England this year till then and even though there was a light grass cover on the pitch, there was an element of dryness below which could aid spin.
But come Friday, the heavens opened up and the conditions changed drastically. In no time, it became a heavily seamer-friendly situation and the popular theory at Lord’s demanded the four pacers who toiled manfully for India at Edgbaston, where the pitch had so much more in it for spinners.
But Kohli opted for R Ashwin and Kuldeep Yadav and when it came to India’s chance to bowl, they only had Mohammad Shami and Ishant Sharma as their pace options, Hardik Pandya being the back-up. But with the pitch having so much in it for the pacers, Ashwin, who was quite magnificent in the first Test, could only be brought on after three hours of play. Kuldeep bowled four overs till then but with only 107 in the bank, it was not possible for the chinaman to go on an all-out attack. It meant that India definitely lacked the extra pacer when Shami was bowling quite beautifully at one end. “Yes, we needed the extra pacer on this pitch. It’s true that till the ball rolls, it’s very difficult to say how it’s going to play, but Umesh was needed on this pitch,” former India captain Sourav Ganguly told TOI.
Ganguly himself had played two spinners – Kumble and Harbhajan – on an apparently seamer-friendly pitch at Headingly back in 2002, and the spin twins had ended up with 11 of the 20 wickets that helped India notch up a win.
“My idea was to go with my best five bowlers. Kuldeep is a good bowler but on these conditions, the extra pacer would probably have been the right option,” Sourav said. Harbhajan, who himself got four wickets in that Headingly Test, reiterated that two spinners were needed in Birmingham, not here. “You could see the conditions were heavily in the pacers’ favour, especially after the rain,” Harbhajan said.
The former offie’s point was justified when in the second session on Day 3, the two spinners came on to bowl and released the pressure on Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes. The pacers were tiring and with England already taking a lead, it became a game of catch-up for India.
“It happens sometimes. Kohli does a lot of things right, there can be the odd mistake. Let’s give him the benefit of doubt here,” Ganguly said.