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India are never down and out
“We don’t think like people on the outside do.” This was Virat Kohli’s response to a question in the press room after his side’s stunning victory in Johannesburg earlier this year. Back then, India were 2-0 down in the series against South Africa and their batting lineup received carping criticism for its previous failures. Yet, on the most “dangerous” of pitches, they delivered a performance full of heart and courage. Fast forward to this tour, they arrived in Nottingham again 2-0 down. Players’ careers were being called into question, but, they have once again shown that they will not roll over. A sensational performance has told all the critics to stop doubting and start believing in the number one side in the world.
As with all sport, so much of the battle is held in the mind. What are your thoughts when you are in the heat of battle? How do you plan to block out the noise from all your harshest critics? All of these internal battles is what makes success in sport so elusive for so many. The Indian batsmen, apart from Kohli, had not been able to get past those battles heading into the Trent Bridge test on Saturday. Commentators like Michael Vaughan made it seem like if you get Kohli out, the rest of the batting lineup will crumble. He may be the best player in the world and he may have scored yet another century, but there are other quality batsmen in this side. Shikhar Dhawan and Lokesh Rahul played fantastically well in both innings to negate the new ball, and Cheteshwar Pujara showed why he is so important to the batting unit in the second innings. Likewise, Ajinkya Rahane came out of a slump and along with Kohli, made yet another 100 run partnership and showed that this side has more than the man from Delhi. The batsmen’s intent has been brilliant in this test match, where they have forgotten about their past failures. They have looked to score first, and their feet have moved to make all the difference. Critics, do not discount these great players, they have made the country proud a number of times over the last few years.
Added to the criticism of the batsmen, there has been unnecessary doubts about Hardik Pandya’s place in the side. Before this test match, the statistics suggested that the critics had a point. An average of 32.71 with the bat, and 39.3 with the ball is not something to wax lyrical about. However, people are missing two very crucial points. Pandya has played only 10 test matches and is only 24 years of age. Earlier this year, he scored a sparkling 93 in South Africa, where all other batsmen had failed. On Sunday, he had a remarkable afternoon session, getting his five-wicket haul in just 29 balls. Pandya has all the talent in the world and can be a wonderful cricketer for India over the next decade. Comparisons with Kapil Dev are simply unjustified and not needed, as it does not help the boy from Gujarat. It only adds pressure onto his shoulders. Let him, as he said on Sunday night, be the first Hardik Pandya, not the second Kapil Dev. Critics, stop comparing and let this team be a great one in their own right.
The series now goes to Southampton, with the score 2-1 to England. England may go on to win this series 4-1, and critics will again get on their high horse to lambast the performance of Ravi Shastri’s team. But as the coach said in the build up to the game at Nottingham, “there is not one negative bone in this team.” He and India will continue to push for more iconic victories away from home, and critics will have to eat their words sooner rather than later.