Kohli undone by fickle English conditions

Kohli undone by fickle English conditions

Batsman's poor form is a big concern

Kohli undone by fickle English conditions

 It was the second over after lunch during the first Test at Trent Bridge. Virat Kohli had just come in during India’s first innings and was trying to get his eyes in. Stuart Broad bowled a beautiful outswinger, leaving Kohli with no other option but to edge it to Ian Bell at second slip. His stay lasted just eight balls.

India needed a solid partnership to kill the game on the final morning at Nottingham. Kohli was the overnight man on eight, and he lasted just 1.3 overs. This time Broad did him in with a delivery that came into him and hit flush on his pads.

Broad never dismissed Kohli again in the next six innings. But the pacer had already created indecisiveness in the mind of Kohli, and India’s all-weather run-machine malfunctioned from there. He set up a wonderful platform for James Anderson to reduce Kohli to be his bunny. In the next six innings, Kohli fell four times to Anderson off 30 deliveries scoring a mere seven runs, either caught behind or snicking to slip cordon.

Kohli is an intense man, at least when it comes to his batting. The repeated failures have affected him and you can sense a bit of nervousness in him, particularly at nets. These days, he arrives at nets much before his colleagues, consults coach Duncan Fletcher and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni a few more moments than he usually would have done, urges fielding coach Trevor Penny to try different lengths during throwdowns, and tries to perfect sweep, pull and improve his awareness about off-stump.

The playful Kohli has receded into the background, and a more grim character has emerged. There’s a definite sense of hurt. He was expected to lead India’s batting in England but has fallen short woefully. He so far has made 108 runs from eight innings at 13.50 with a highest of 39. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has scored 238 runs with three fifties and even Mohammad Shami has a fifty.

Lack of runs runs from Kohli has hindered India’s progress, but Dhoni remained optimistic. “It is a lean period Virat has to go through. It is bound to happen sometimes, if not now then six months down the line it would have happened. He had a lovely two to three years scoring runs everywhere in all formats. So, it’s something he has to go through and it will make him only a better cricketer,” said Dhoni.

Yes, walking through the fire can steel a sportsperson’s determination to succeed. Rahul Dravid offers a brilliant analogy. Dravid went to Australia with the reputation of being India’s immovable object in 1999, only to return with 93 runs from three Tests at 15.50 without even a fifty. But since that modest outing Dravid played 13 more Tests in Australia, amassing 1073 runs at 48.77.

On a later instance, Dravid explained how Test cricket functions. "Just being talented doesn't necessarily mean you will have a successful Test career. There are a lot of things that go with it, how you face the challenges and deal with things that are more internal than external,” he had said.

Expectations In a way, Dravid was foretelling the Kohli story. The Delhi man came into this series saddled with expectations – his own and ours. His recent success in South Africa and New Zealand against a better set of bowlers was the foundation of those hopes. However, it took Kohli just one Test – 37 balls to be precise – to realise that a totally different beast is out there to tame, conditions that change per session and a group of bowlers who can use the fickleness of the weather tellingly.

So, what’s the way forward for Kohli? Some pundits have suggested changing his technique, but Dhoni pointed out the danger in suddenly altering the familiar methods. “He has a strong basic of his own and it is tough to alter it in a few weeks or days. You may feel comfortable doing in the nets. But once you go into the middle, there is pressure on you if you miss a few deliveries. The first thing you do is to go back to your basics. That’s your instinct,” said Dhoni.

Since experiencing a lean run in his debut series against the West Indies in 2011, Kohli has not gone through sustained failures. But now, that unwanted guest has crashed through the door again. Kohli needs to liberate himself, and we need to be patient with him.