Don’t pry is the cry!

Write about my game, criticise me if i play a bad shot, and i know i getpraised when i play well. I am okay with all that, but please don't poke intomy personal life. - Virat Kohli-K. PICHUMANI

Virat Kohli has struck a bad patch, especially in Test cricket. Will the home series against the West Indies provide redemption? By K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

It was a nippy August noon in the heart of London and with India having suffered a 1-3 thrashing in the Test series against England, despair and change hung in the air in equal measure. A group of Indian sports scribes meanwhile hung around the team hotel inside which newly-appointed director Ravi Shastri was interacting with coach Duncan Fletcher and captain M. S. Dhoni.

Just as the sun peeped out, Virat Kohli sauntered out for a walk. He nodded his head and swapped smiles with the waiting correspondents and then did a double-take, turned around and spoke briefly. The gist was his understandable annoyance at the increasing scrutiny around his personal zone. Being the quintessential modern youth, Kohli has been open about his life but what irked him the most was the nudge-nudge-wink-wink style of reportage some sections of the media indulged in vis-a-vis his poor form and the insinuations about his actress-girlfriend briefly being with him in England.

“Write about my game, criticise me if I play a bad shot, and I know I get praised when I play well. I am okay with all that, but please don’t poke into my personal life,” Kohli said. The 25-year-old was perfectly justified in expressing his fair views. And it was imperative that the superfluous gaze on him that was more obsessed with his personal life, had to be negated.

Reverting to the purely cricketing angle, it was time to admit that Kohli, India’s most promising batsman, who stepped into the number four slot made iconic by Sachin Tendulkar, was actually suffering a wretched run with the bat. He did the hard yards at the nets, was always disciplined, it was just that at the back of his mind, he was also thinking about the off-field intrusions into his private space.

Perhaps Kohli needs to take a leaf out of his predecessors like Tendulkar and company, who never allowed peripheral issues to bog them down.

It was a sad state to be in for a player, who besides the enormous talent he is blessed with, is also a bubbly presence on the ground. Before poor form and shards of despair affected Kohli, he was actually in a good space while setting foot in England. Prior to that, in his last overseas Test against New Zealand at Wellington, Kohli had scored an unbeaten 105. The British media hailed him and Cheteshwar Pujara as the ones to watch out for, but to India’s chagrin, both failed to live up to their standards and a series was lost.

Kohli specifically developed an uncertainty around his off-stump and the slip-cordon was kept happy. Through the five Tests, he scored 1, 8, 25, 0, 39, 28, 0, 7, 6 and 20 with James Anderson scalping him on four occasions. The flaw was aggravated after Kohli shouldered arms to Liam Plunkett at Lord’s and found his stumps in disarray. After that in the subsequent matches, he tried to over-compensate and ended up playing deliveries that could have been left alone.

A certain state of denial too crept into him as in the nets, besides finessing his defence, he also tried to perfect the slog-sweep while obviously thinking about countering spinner Moeen Ali. However, often in the middle, by the time Ali was employed, Kohli was back in the hut.

KOHLI... a lot of catching up to do.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

The ODI series was supposed to show Kohli’s dominant streak, but even that didn’t happen as he mustered 54 from four matches and though he struck a 66 in the lone Twenty20, he left England with questions shadowing his form. His reputation — gained in the previous tours of Australia and South Africa, where he countered pace and swing and scored hundreds — was mildly dented.

Cut to the present, back to the familiar soil of India and countering the West Indies, Kohli was expected to put his England travails behind but when he snicked Jerome Taylor at Kochi in the first ODI, the whispers about his batting, were back in vogue. Luckily a silver lining was sighted on his home turf — Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla, where he scored a 62 (78b, 5x4) while India won the second match. The relief in Kohli and in the cricketing fraternity was palpable and Harsha Bhogle tweeted: “Loved Virat Kohli’s sheepish smile after getting to a 50!”

Kohli may well turn the corner in the forthcoming Tests against the West Indies and in Dhoni, he has a captain, who believes in the Delhi lad.

But the fact that Kohli had to relinquish his customary number three slot in ODIs at the Kotla and walk in at four, was an admission that he is yet to regain the assurance that once coated his bat. But more critically, the tour of Australia towards the year-end will determine the way Kohli gets ahead in his career. He may be a phenomenal player in limited-overs cricket, but in Tests, he certainly has to improve his current average of 39.46 which doesn’t do justice to his skills. He certainly continues to stay in the news, be it his investment in the FC Goa football team or his latest ad-campaign for a cola major.

And as for off-field scrutiny, may be, he should have a quiet word with Shastri, who in his heyday as a player, had his share of press, be it the sports pages or Page Three. All that matters is runs and what Kohli does on the ground and if he can sort out the malaise around his off-stump, India will be better served.