Virat Kohli entered the fifth day at The Oval knowing that his legacy as a captain was potentially at stake, but in what turned out to be arguably his best ever tactical showing as a leader, the Indian skipper produced a leadership masterclass to enable his side to take a 2-1 lead in the five-match series.
Kohli got his tactics and bowling changes spot on, and by the end of the game all his decisions - even the controversial one to leave Ashwin out - stood vindicated. Nasser Hussain described the final day as Kohli’s ‘Midas Test’, for everything the Indian skipper touched turned to gold.
But while the conversation around Kohli’s captaincy has largely been about what he achieved on the field, former England skipper David Gower believes that the 32-year-old deserves huge credit for creating a healthy, positive culture off it.
Reviewing the fourth Test exclusively on Cricket.com, Gower insisted that topsy-turvy matches like the one at The Oval can be ‘extremely tricky’ for captains, and credited Kohli for creating a positive vibe in the dressing room that, he felt, served as a catalyst for India’s comeback.
“In a game with so many ebbs and flows, one of the trickiest things as captain is what goes on in the dressing room - people don’t see this. It’s all about the atmosphere in that room. Is it a confident room? Is it a comfortable room? Is it a determined room? Is it a relaxed room? All these things come in,” Gower told Cricket.com.
“He (Kohli) seems to be enjoying himself, he seems to be relaxed. And that is one of the most important jobs as a captain - to help create the atmosphere in the room. So when India compiled that 466 in the second innings, that atmosphere must have been important.
“That performance on the final day. To have that result in the bag so definitively is a big tick for Kohli’s captaincy.”
No team had the upper hand heading into the final day, but in a Test filled with twists and turns, it was India who soared to victory with a sensational bowling display on Day 5. But despite eventually losing comprehensively, England had multiple opportunities in the Test to put India away. The hosts did not take their chances and it eventually came to bite them as the visitors staged a remarkable comeback.
Gower reckoned that ‘little moments’ decided the match and noted that England’s inability to be ‘relentless’ cost them the Test.
“The big irony about the whole game is that we were talking about Ashwin. But Shardul comes in and smashes it all around the park - wasn’t a big total but it was a much better total than what it might have been.
“That shot that Moeen played. It was not what the situation demanded. The situation demanded something different. The situation needed Moeen to get another 20-30, that would have changed the balance of the game.
“Those are the little moments. If you say India got 40-50 too many, if you say England got 30-40 fewer than what they should have got, the math changes. The whole game situation changes. That is why every team in the world knows that there is never a moment to relax in Test cricket. You have to be relentless,” the former England skipper said.
One such key moment that played a part in deciding the result of the Test was Rory Burns dropping Rohit Sharma towards the end of Day 2, when the latter’s knock was still in its nascent stages. The drop wasn’t a one-off, however, as England spilled a handful of other chances at different points in the game, and also missed a crucial run-out chance that would have seen Rishabh Pant depart to the pavilion earlier than he did.
Gower said that he was not quite sure what led to England squandering so many chances, but opined that, in terms of drop catches, unfamiliarity in fielding positions might have played a hand.
“Dropped chances, missed run-outs - all these things at crucial times. You can sometimes absorb the odd one but we all lost count of drop catches and all the mistakes in the field. Is it a sign of weakness? Is it a sign of lack of practice? Is it a sign of lack of confidence? I’m not sure.
“The best teams have a good ratio in terms of the chances offered and chances taken. I have sympathy for Burns but those chances need to be taken. You give someone like a Rohit Sharma another chance, he will make you pay. There’s your proof for the fact that the catches you drop will lose you matches as much as the catches you take will win you matches.
“If you’re playing regular four-day cricket and you’re in a position regularly, it becomes easier. But, say, in the instance of Rory Burns, he is not always at slip (anyway) for Surrey. Therefore you’re putting a man in a key position who basically hasn’t had the match practice of doing that job. It is a question of familiarity in the role,” the 64-year-old said.
With India now having won 4 SENA Tests in the span of just 10 months, there has understandably been debate about whether this current unit led by Kohli is their greatest Test side ever.
Gower opined that there is a good case to call this the best ever Indian side to set foot on English soil, and credited the bowling for transforming the team into a formidable unit. The former England skipper also reserved special praise for Jasprit Bumrah, who he felt was rightly being compared with legends like Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram.
“I think it probably is (the best Indian side ever). When we started looking at the series before a ball had been bowled, we acknowledged that this is the best array of Indian seam bowlers we would have seen in this country, ever. The changes that have been made haven’t made a negative difference to the side. Any team that can leave out Ashwin consistently and still win games must be a very, very good team.
“Michael Atherton for The Times wrote about Bumrah emulating the bowling feats of the great Pakistan unit comprising Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. On a wearing pitch with a worn ball, getting reverse swing and making life just tough for batsmen. And that should be taken as a huge compliment. So to be compared to them is high praise indeed, Bumrah deserves that.
“Bairstow, up until that second innings, had looked in control of his game, enjoying his cricket, determined and well-organized To get through the defences of a batsman who had looked good, was impressive,” Gower said.
But despite India having the clear upper hand heading into the final Test at Old Trafford, Gower insisted that England will still fancy their chances to level the series. The 64-year-old stated that across these four Tests, particularly in Leeds, India did show that they are a team with a few noticeable weaknesses there to be exploited.
“The one thing that still keeps England in this series is that they know India have weaknesses; there are vulnerabilities.”