India vs Australia: The Egregious Fallacy Behind “What About Him?”

I am as lost for words as you are, so I will try and borrow a thousand odd ones for this article.

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I get it, I too am shell-shocked, baffled, bamboozled, flummoxed and flabbergasted at this capitulation (there I borrowed a few of the best adjectives — thank you Navjot Singh Siddhu). I am not one to not excoriate the team for waving the white flag and folding like a pack of cards, especially when they had their noses ahead. But I see another insidious assessment creeping into the faux analysis and this post-mortem of sorts.

The “What About Him” ? What about Shubman Gill playing in place of Prithvi Shaw? What about Rishabh Pant for Wriddhiman Saha?

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Let me be candid and say my pick for the first test was Gill over Shaw and Pant over Saha. I’ll get to my larger point, but let’s first start here with Shaw. Yes, his technical deficiencies were exposed and exploited by the Australians, and neither am I backing Shaw to get Gangulyesque extended chances, irrespective of performance (a trend reminiscent of Indian cricket selection of the 90s).

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Yes, Shubman Gill is a standout player and top-scorer of the U-19 World Cup in 2018, But the classic fallacy here is assuming that a Shubman Gill, who no doubt is talented, and irrespective of Shaw’s form, is likely to stand-in for the soon to be in transit Virat Kohli, would have somehow guaranteed the runs or stability at the top in the Adelaide Test.

Quickly segueing to Saha, yes, I get the stability behind the wickets and he is a good reticent and seemingly docile mensch. But for me, not just Adam Gilchrist, but closer to home, Mahendra Singh Dhoni has changed the nature of what is expected of a wicketkeeper. Saha, comes off as an old-school, ‘Ian Healyesque’ keeper, who provides stability but also the quintessential number seven placeholder with an insipid batting style, often serving as the bookmark between top order and tailenders.

Pant, by contrast, has the flair and panache and the track-record of being the only Indian wicketkeeper to hit a test century in Australia, and a scintillating blitzkrieg in the tour game, and if the strokes aren’t enough, his riposte with quips and comebacks get under the tough skin of the Antipodeans, just ask Tim Paine.

But despite this, the bigger issue with the Indian cricket aficionado is the “whataboutery”.

Let’s be clear, the second innings debacle, is India’s worst ever by possibly some of India’s best ever. Sure, there was immaculate bowling, but one Trojan Horse in (Pujara’s wicket perhaps), and the Indian line-up burned down like Troy. The assumption that a Gill or a Pant would somehow ameliorate the morass India found themselves in is unproven gobbledygook. Furthermore, people were even asking for KL Rahul to have been picked over Shaw, forgetting that the same Rahul failed as opener in the last series Down Under, so much so that Indian fans got introduced to Mayank Agarwal who had to be flown in for cover.

Sure, all it takes is one innings, and when Vihari and Saha, the last recognized pair survived longer than their predecessors, I too silently prayed for some sort of a miniscule version of Laxman-Dravid recovery, so minuscule that even a hundred run stand would have been gold.

But I get back to how this was a collective failure! Imagine had this happened in the second test sans Kohli, Indian Twitter would have said, “oh had it been for Virat, India wouldn’t have folded”. Or imagine if Pujara hadn’t played this one, immediately fans would have crooned that had the Man of the Series from 2018 batted, he wouldn’t have let this happen since he is “The Rock”, the most stoic, solid presence in Indian cricket since Dravid. But they both were present, as was most of the team that did partake in the victorious series down under in 2018.

Furthermore, there were tweets of pictures of the “Famous Five” (Sachin, Ganguly, Dravid, Laxman, Dhoni) + Sehwag, alluding to an unspoken “but this wouldn’t take place on their watch”. Candidly, that statement has no leg to stand on. Sure, they were world beaters, and the Dravid-Laxman resuscitation at Eden Gardens in 2001 was epochal for test cricket, Indian cricket and batting in general, a feat that neither of them repeated again. But there have been enough ignominious defeats under the watch of the old guard, and one could argue by the laws of evolution, Indian cricket in general looks more robust now as a unit than it did during the triumvirate era characterized largely by the brilliance of individual stalwarts and less compact success of a team unit. One, could say that the old guard had as torrid a touring record if not more woeful, in (SENA) countries.

One may even argue that India had the best number three and number four in Test Cricket (in lieu of Steve Smith, who sadly cannot play for India), the best bowling attack that India could have mustered, and almost the same side that was victorious ever in a test series against Australia.

Once again, this is not a prescription to forget the debacle and embrace selective amnesia, but a realistic clarion call to pragmatically conduct a post-mortem on the batting and eschew “what if he had been picked” argument!

Assuming a Gill for Shaw and a Pant for Saha would have somehow avoided India’s batting morass, standing on a wicket as tenuous as Adelaide’s Day Three pitch.

To end with some cricketing perspicacity if I may, there is a great deal of trouble swallowing this defeat partly because of the scale of ignominy and the fact that this was a defeat reminiscent of Indian cricket in the 1990s on green-tinge wickets, where survival was itself success. This isn’t expected to happen in the “New India”, the fiery India if you will, the India of 2020 under a firebrand rockstar personality like Virat Kohli, who has largely put his money where his mouth is in terms of his own batting exploits.

This incredulity to understand this defeat has driven us to a state of whatabouttery and a faux sense of longing for the old guard, who perhaps even on their best day under similar bowling spells, too may have succumbed to the same fate.

We may obviously disagree, our biases may preclude us from thinking so, but alas, there is no way of knowing for sure.

Melbourne awaits and on Boxing Day, India needs to throw back the punches.

A journalist by profession, Akshobh Giridharadas was based out of Singapore as a reporter and producer with Channel News Asia, Singapore covering international business news. He writes on diverse topics such as geopolitics, business, tech and sports. His previous endeavours include working at ESPN STAR and FOX networks. He is a two time TEDx speaker and is a graduate from the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy, Tufts in international affairs.

Originally published at https://www.news18.com on December 21, 2020.

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