It's all in the mind for Kohli

Virat needs to be confident, advises his Royal Challengers coach Jennings

It's all in the mind for Kohli

The image of Virat Kohli tending to his sore ribs with ice pack relayed repeatedly in the Super Sport channel during the third one-dayer at Centurion, and, apparently, it didn’t go down well with the Indian team management.

If you set aside the right and wrong of the issue temporarily, there’s a point to ponder ahead of the Test series, starting on December 18 at the Wanderers. The visual, perhaps, was a portent to the grind Kohli would face against easily the best pace bowling attack in the world – Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander.

While Kohli the one-day batsman has left a clear imprint across the world, the same cannot be said about Kohli the Test batsman. He has played seven Tests in the West Indies and Australia, and in the Caribbean Fidel Edwards troubled him with snorters in mid 2011. All he could manage on that tour was 72 runs from six innings at a modest average of 15.20.

The first seven innings Down Under in early 2012 produced a mere 184 runs, but Kohli redeemed himself with a counter-attacking 116 at Adelaide, an innings Kohli said had given him more belief in his skills.

But South Africa would offer him a test unlike any other in the past. Ray Jennings, who worked closely with Kohli during his stint with Royal Challengers Bangalore, warned the 25-year old Delhiite of the rough road ahead.

“It’s going to be quite a difficult test for him. South Africa in South African conditions will try to exploit his weaknesses. When you look at Kohli, he’s a superb player of spin. If there is any weakness, it’s while facing fast bowling. He will definitely be tested in South Africa, like he has been during the ODIs. He has to rise above that challenge,” said Jennings.

The former South African coach was certain that Kohli’s biggest challenge of the series would come from short-pitched balls. “The short ball in India is different to the short ball in South Africa. When you compare the bounce, in India if you put the ball shorter and it lollipops to you, but in South Africa, it comes up to you quickly. So it’s a lot more intense.

 I can relate it to driving a motorcar. If you drive a car that goes a 100km an hour, and then I put you in one that is going at 170 km, of course, you will be rattled and be troubled till you get used to the car going at 170kph.

“The important thing is that Virat needs to come to terms with the short ball in South Africa, and get used to the pace of them. Perhaps, they should have come here a bit early and got used to the conditions because not many of them have played Test matches here,” Jennings explained. 

It is almost certain that Kohli would come at No 4 in the Tests, and he has to bat under the giant shadow of Sachin Tendulkar. Jennings advised Kohli that he should keep his mind away from those external pressures if he wants to do well in the two-match Test series. 

“Virat is a very moody and confidence type of player. So the most important thing for him right now is to get his mind into that confident state of mind. He has to make sure that he feels good about himself. I know Virat likes hitting a lot of balls and making himself feel good, and he’s a very destructive player. But he needs to be in that right frame of mind ahead of the Test series,” said Jennings. 

However, Kohli’s build-up to the Test series has been anything but exciting. In the first one-dayer at Johannesburg, Kohli looked in good touch, but guided Ryan McLaren to Jacques Kallis at slips after making 31. His stay lasted all of five balls in the second ODI at Durban before edging Lonawabo Tsotstobe to stumper Quinton de Kock for a duck. 

He didn’t get a chance to bat in the third one-dayer after rain washed out India’s chase at the SuperSport Park. While Kohli’s hopes of getting some game time before the first Test too was thwarted as India’s two-day side match against South African Invitation XI at Benoni was abandoned without a ball being bowled due to wet outfield. Jennings said Kohli needed to put to those disappointments behind him. 

“Yes, after a few failures, you don’t feel bad about yourself but you also don’t feel confident about your skills. The key thing here is the state of mind. Kohli has to find a thought pattern to apply his skills here,” he said.  

If Kohli doesn’t click here, this short series might become even shorter for Indians. 

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