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India Must Consider Dropping Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli After Test Failures

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 27:  Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan of India talk as they walk out onto the pitch for the second session during Day 1 of the 3rd Investec Test match between England and India at the Ageas Bowl on July 27, 2014 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Christopher Lee/Getty Images
Jaideep VaidyaAnalyst IJuly 30, 2014

India need more than a miracle to save the third Test against England at Southampton, with the visitors staring down the barrel at 112 for four at the end of Day 4, chasing England's distant target of 445.

Miracles are often talked about in the game of cricket, with its rich and eventful history abundant with instances that can be so classified.

However, miracles should not be expected to be showered upon you with a swish of a wand; they have to be earned.

After four excruciating days of cricket at the Ageas Bowl, laced with a negative attitude and an irresolute performance from almost all players, a miracle is not what India deserve. Defeat is.

Coming into this match after a hard-fought and well-deserved 1-0 lead in the series, India were expected to play like winners and possess the momentum required to surge ahead.

Instead, after four days of bewildering cricket from the visitors, coupled with an unswerving positive brand from the hosts, it's hard to believe that this is the same Indian team that wowed one and all at Lord's.

The bright side for India is that this is a five-match series and there are still two games left after this one to make amends.

The first thing on Mahendra Singh Dhoni's drawing board should be to blow away the defensiveness that has inexplicably seeped into his mindset after what we saw at Lord's, in not only his tactics on the field but also team selection.

India's decision to play the extra batsman at Southampton has almost certainly backfired unless Rohit Sharma earns an unlikely miracle on Thursday.

Given how England’s supposedly part-time spinner Moeen Ali—who has 11 wickets to his name in this series—has performed, it would be a calamity if Ravichandran Ashwin does not play in Manchester.

India have been let down by their batsmen at Southampton, who either failed to convert hard-earned starts or threw their wickets away—or both. If the axe has to fall on anyone, the two names that stand out are Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli.

The pair's combined aggregate of 223 runs for the series is five less than what bowling all-rounder Bhuvneshwar Kumar has scored himself.

Dhawan is almost certain to be dropped, with the experienced Gautam Gambhir waiting for his first chance to play in the series.

Shikhar Dhawan edges Joe Root to first slip in the second innings at the Ageas Bowl.
Shikhar Dhawan edges Joe Root to first slip in the second innings at the Ageas Bowl.Stu Forster/Getty Images

The southpaw has looked extremely twitchy and uncomfortable for most parts of his brief stays in the middle—his 85-ball struggle for 37 runs in the second innings at the Ageas Bowl being his most promising outing.

A naturally attacking player, Dhawan's instincts have been suppressed by the pace, bounce and movement generated by James Anderson and Co., so much so that he looks tentative even while playing spinners.

While caution is acceptable to some limit in difficult circumstances and conditions, India have missed the Dhawan in full flow who is capable of taking the attack to the opposition, no matter what their credentials.

Dhawan has failed to support his opening partner, Murali Vijay, who would have hoped for some aggression and counter-attack from the other end while he plays his natural, watchful innings.

Instead, Dhawan has lost his wicket early in the innings to the quicks on four occasions and once each to the spin of Moeen Ali and Joe Root.

Some time out could just be the ideal tonic required for not only Dhawan but the team in general, who would like to see what Gambhir has to offer.

The same can't really be said about Kohli. The man who replaced Sachin Tendulkar at No. 4 in India's batting line-up obviously has some big boots to fill, but then he is the only Indian batsman who is capable of doing so.

Kohli came into the series off some terrific form in South Africa and New Zealand, and was expected to lead India's batting in this series. However, England have found and exploited his weakness outside off-stump and have done well to keep him quiet.

Moeen Ali dismisses Virat Kohli at the Ageas Bowl.
Moeen Ali dismisses Virat Kohli at the Ageas Bowl.Michael Steele/Getty Images

Kohli's dismissal in the second innings at Lord's, where he left alone a Liam Plunkett delivery only for it to jag back in and take the top of off-stump, set a few alarm bells ringing regarding his technique.

Leaving deliveries does not come naturally to Kohli, who is a pure and prolific stroke-maker. He appeared to be trying his best to reverse his fortunes at Southampton but is just not able to curb that inclination to poke outside off-stump.

Kohli showed glimpses of his class at the Ageas Bowl during his innings of 39 and 28, with some glorious cover drives and straight drives, before his poking fetish got the better of him.

However, with these two outings, he has just about prevented the "out of form" label being stuck across his forehead.

Should Kohli be dropped?

Not yet. That's not just because India don't really have a replacement in their 18-man squad but also because he is the kind of batsman who possesses the quality and ability to turn around games single-handedly. You want to provide such talismanic players with a longer leash.

But India will need their No. 4 to fire soon if they are to get a move on in this series.

A good place to start for Kohli would be to grab hold of the DVD of his predecessor's innings of 241 at Sydney in 2003-04, which was a thesis on disciplined and controlled batting.

All statistics via ESPN Cricinfo unless otherwise stated.

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