If MS Dhoni was mentally wedded to ‘process’, Virat Kohli is in a monogamous relationship with ‘intent’. Google throws up 3,82,000 results of the Kohli-intent combo. Unsurprisingly, it cropped up again after his team lost the World Test Championship final.
The crux was, in his own words, this: “The mindset has to be to score runs and find ways to score runs. You can’t be too worried about getting out because you’re bringing the bowler into the game completely and not moving the game forward … That’s probably the only thing we need to focus.”
And he littered the chat with lack of intent as the main reason.
If anything, the batsmen did show intent and did try to take the game forward. On the first overcast day, they ensured they didn’t get stuck at the crease. Post the infamous 36 all out in Adelaide, this unit has been willing to extend themselves.
Most Indian batsmen stood outside the crease, even moved further forward, yet managed to hold shape, as they tried to combat the English conditions. In the second innings, most tried to play the situation. Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara didn’t last long on the final day for us to fret about the intent of either.
When Rohit Sharma shouldered arms after an impressively compact and patient knock was it a lack of intent? Nope. He just didn’t pick up Tim Southee’s signature special three-quarter-seam ball. It happens with him. In white-ball cricket, he hasn’t always picked the googly from the hand.
When Cheteshwar Pujara fell stabbing at an off-cutter in the second innings, surprised at the choice of weapon and the bounce, was it due to lack of intent? Nope, he seemed baffled that it wasn’t the normal in-cutter but released like an off-break. And are we going to walk again into groundhog day with Pujara and intent?
He has had other issues in the last few games – his technique surgically probed by Australia’s Pat Cummins – but he played the conditions perfectly well in the first evening of this Test and the situation adequately in the fifth evening.
It’s clear that his best performances for India over the years – in Australia and elsewhere – has been defined by the intent of his own. When he did what he does in the way he wants. One can ask for meatier contributions of course but to dictate his style of play especially in a team filled with attackers is silly and self-destructive. What he needs to do is to find a way as Kane Williamson did in both innings – hang in, settle, and work the angles. Which is what Pujara has been doing for years until the recent stumble. His strike rate is almost 45 to Williamson’s 51.
When Ajinkya Rahane fell for 49 in the first innings – a mini game-changing moment- swatting a short ball with fielders placed exactly for such brain-fades, wasn’t he showing intent? Considering it was a long boundary, a full-blooded pull also doesn’t come with the guarantee that it would clear the boundary patrollers.
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When Rishabh Pant poked out in the second innings (the regulation chance that Tim Southee dropped) was he showing intent? Or when he switched to aggression and in the process looked like an actor mimicking himself as many Bollywood stars do. Was that intent? Kohli understandably and rightly backed him in the post-match conference but are only aggressive batsmen going to be given that license to bat in their style in this team from now on?
When Virat Kohli fell poking at a delivery that straightened outside off in the second innings or when he was pinned lbw in the first, was it lack of intent? Nope, he had been sucked into it by a classy set-up from Kyle Jamieson. His back foot got stuck, his hips misaligned and he got squared up in the second innings. He was forced to play around the front pad in the first innings.
What about Shubman Gill? The bowlers target him with full-length straighteners or nip-backers after a series of back-of-length stuff. The problem is his slow weight transfer to the front foot. Structurally, his game is built for the on-the-up or back-foot punches; he rarely leans into his drives. One could see him trying to suss out ways to do the course correction without upsetting his innate strength. Until he manages that, his dismissals will have a soft tame look about it – a couple more dismissals of that nature will be seen as lack of intent?
Should Ravindra Jadeja have abandoned his tenacious approach – little more of it could have saved the game for India – where he chose survival over attack be seen through the intent prism?
There are issues with this batting unit, sure. A few of them could find themselves in hot water if they don’t perform in the five-Test series against England. It’s a crucial series for Gill; if he can sort out the weight-transfer issue, great; else by the end of the series pressure – external and possibly internal – might creep up.
Pujara has to find a way out of the recent dip; with the help of then coach Anil Kumble, he was able to ward off the ‘intent’ pressure last time around. He has to find a way again to score runs and score big. The Williamson template is a good place to start but that mode would need the captain’s confidence.
At Southampton, Rahane looked almost as good as he has ever been in English conditions. He averages 29.26 here as opposed to a career average of 41.
The 103 at Lords in 2014, a counter-attacking special on a green track, is right up there among his best but he has had issues after that. Without a good forward stride, he hasn’t been able to trust his defence in these conditions as much as he would have liked. And when in trouble, either due to the match situation or personal technical issues, he always prefers to counter-attack.
Rohit Sharma has looked very impressive – the recent version is probably the tightest technique among right-handed openers in world cricket right now – and it does seem big runs are just around the corner.
Much would also depend on the pitches that England serve up. Considering India’s skewed team balance in the absence of a seam-bowling allrounder, would they lay out seamer-friendly conditions? The curator’s intent might well be the difference in the end.
The thing with intent is one can fit anything with it. Like Kohli has done in the past. This, from three years ago: “Intent doesn’t really mean that you have to go out there and start playing shots from ball one. The intent is there in a leave. Intent is there in defending as well. Intent is about being vocal out there in calling. Just the way your body language, the way you are thinking about the game. It gets portrayed in your body language. People can tell if you are playing with intent or not,” he had said.
‘People can tell’. The problem with that is once suggestions are dropped into the head, people can tell and hear things they don’t normally see or hear. A Chinese whisper can spread like a virus. Players can also listen and start self-doubting or turn more stubborn in their ways — and both can lead to self-destruction. This is a team that has reached the final of the championship after an era-defining triumph in Australia; this is not the time to sow doubts.