Virat Kohli: The don waits for the new dawn

Virat Kohli is down in the dumps. His batting form has deserted him and the competitive streak is missing from his captaincy. However, as his journey so far has been underlined by resilience, the chances are that captain Kohli will be back among big runs in the Champions Trophy. It will be hard to keep this feisty man down as he seeks to galvanise his team and turn prolific with the willow again.

A bad IPL followed for Kohli, after the below-par Australian series.   -  VIVEK BENDRE

How quickly things change in cricket, irrespective of a protagonist’s stature and ability! As belief, a precious commodity, dips, the player in question suffers a rather rude change in fortunes. And he comes under scrutiny for the wrong reasons. As he is dissected, the pressure only mounts. It’s a vicious cycle really, accentuated by a series of setbacks.

Look at what Virat Kohli is undergoing at present. The runs dried up in the later stages of the season and his team, Royal Challengers Bangalore, finished at the bottom of the IPL table after going through the horrors.

Kohli has appeared strangely subdued in the action-packed Twenty20 competition. The passion and the aggro with which he plays his cricket have been missing. Even on those occasions — and there have been many — when his RCB collapsed inexplicably we could not quite witness the anger in Kohli. In fact, after a particularly demoralising rout, he was smiling at a post-match interview, sounding philosophical about the outcome.

This was not the firebrand Kolhi we had become accustomed to over the years. The Delhi cricketer, in several respects, is similar to that legendary Pakistani Javed Miandad. He too would, unmindful of retaliation, taunt and provoke the most threatening bowler in the opposite camp; if Miandad did that to Dennis Lillee, then Kohli took on Mitchell Johnson.

Kohli too is involved in on-field scraps, gets under the skin of the opponent and fiercely puts across his views. Adverse situations and controversies do not weigh him down; in fact, they spur Kohli on.

The headaches began for Virat Kohli from the home series against Australia in which he couldn’t put bat to ball.   -  V. V. KRISHNAN

 

That appears a long time ago now. The Kohli on view in the IPL has been a shadow of his former self. As captain, he has hardly been inspiring, not quite having his finger on the pulse of the game at all times.

Has the long, gruelling home Test season left physical and mental scars on this 28-year-old cricketer? Is this emotional player finally exhausted?

In fact, Kohli could do no wrong in the series against New Zealand and England at home. The right-hander notched up 309 runs in the three-Test series against New Zealand at 51.50 as India outplayed the Kiwis.

Then Kohli was in rousing form when the Englishmen toured India, amassing a whopping 665 runs at 109.16. The skipper was the toast really as India romped home 4-0 in the series.

A double century followed in the one-off Test against Bangladesh at Hyderabad. This was a phase, a high really, when Kohli could not put a foot wrong.

Then arrived the downward spiral. It shook many, including Kohli.

The pitches for the four-Test Australia series were spinner-friendly. And Australia had two effective spinners in Nathan Lyon and Steve O’Keefee apart from world class seamers Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins. For once, run-making proved demanding for the Indians even at home.

Until the Australia series, Kohli had used captaincy as a stimulant for his batting. Far from leadership putting stress on his batting, he thrived on the extra responsibility.

However, did captaincy, particularly in a tense, dramatic series such as the face-off against Australia, finally adversely impact his batting?

In the three Tests he played — Kohli missed out on the final Test owing to an injured shoulder — the Indian captain managed only 46 runs at 9.20.

Bad habits can gradually, and almost unnoticed, creep into a batsman’s technique during a seemingly never-ending series of matches — India was involved in 13 Tests during a packed home season. And the batsman neither has the time nor the space to first identify the faults and then rectify them as he is constantly travelling and playing games, without a break.

As the series against Australia wore on, Kohli’s confidence seemed in his boots. And his batting seemed to be lacking an essential attribute — balance.

Kohli was tentative in his footwork and unsure about whether to play forward or back. This also meant that he was not picking the length as well as he used to. Resultantly, he played away from his body, was drawn into shots instead of waiting for the ball to come to him.

Kohli has a formidable Test record with 4497 runs in 57 Tests at 49.41, can dominate attacks, impose himself on the game.

Yet, he’s had problems in certain conditions. Kohli was found out in the off-stump corridor by the English pacemen in Old Blighty during the 2014 series. Kohli played all five Tests but averaged just 13.40.

His footwork was uncertain and Kohli was not quite covering for the swing. Body alignment is critical while countering seam movement and swing in England.

In terms of pure technique against the moving ball, New Zealand’s Kane Williamson and Joe Root of England, in that order, score over Kohli who is more comfortable with pace and bounce than lateral movement.

Kohli, however, has the habit of making the most when conditions favour his style of batting where apart from unleashing the big drives, he whips the ball around forcefully.

Kohli’s record in One-Day Internationals is phenomenal and the whole of India is waiting for him to regain form in the coming Champions Trophy to be held in England.   -  VIVEK BENDRE

This time around in the IPL, Kohli did produce some useful knocks, such as his 62 against Mumbai Indians, 64 versus Gujarat Lions and 55 at the expense of the Rising Pune Supergiant attack.

Along with these efforts, though, were several disappointments when ordinary shot selection betrayed Kohli. He was not able to lift his men either.

Kohli looked tired and jaded too, given the number of games he had played leading into the competition. Or, was captaincy taking too much out of this hands-on, in-your-face, and a relentlessly aggressive cricketer? Was it finally draining him mentally, shifting his focus away from batting?

But then, Kohli can fight his way back. Remember the series in the Caribbean in 2011 when he was a sitting duck to short-pitched deliveries from Fidel Edwards and Jerome Taylor?

Kohli went back to the drawing board, worked on his shortcoming and smashed a Test hundred against a pacy Australian attack in Adelaide track not long after. The chances are that Kohli will be back among runs in the ICC Champions Trophy. He relishes ODI cricket, has an awesome record of 7755 runs in 179 games at 53.11 with a stunning 27 hundreds.

And the manner he orchestrates successful chases, unmindful of the odds, showcases his ability to manipulate attacks, play around the field with nonchalance, and absorb the pressure.

But then, since the Champions Trophy will be staged in England, Kohli will need to tighten his game around the off-stump.

His journey so far has been underlined by resilience. It will be hard to keep this feisty man down as he seeks to galvanise his team and turn prolific with the willow again.