Middling the ball

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Team India must have heaved a sigh of relief seeing the batsman regain his touch against the Windies. But knowing Kohli’s pursuit of excellence, it wasn’t a surprise

By Gaurav Kalra


 When Virat Kohli went to England this July, he was a prodigy en route to becoming a colossus. For the last couple of years, the right-hand batsman had esta-blished himself firmly as the best young batsman in the world. With 25 international hundreds already to his name, Kohli was expected to carry his sparkling run into his first Test tour of England. Instead, he was confronted with a brutal reality check.

In 10 innings over five Test matches, Kohli made all of 134 runs at a shocking average of 13.40. The canny England fast bowler James Anderson repeatedly entrapped him as India imploded dramatically to lose the series 1-3. In the one-day series that followed, the team bounced back, but Kohli could not, making just 54 runs in four innings at an average of 18. It was only in the lone T20 international, which wrapped up the tour, that Kohli managed to get past a half-century. It was far too little and far too late.

As a new season against the West Indies started in India, a chastened Kohli showed signs of picking up the pieces. His measured half-century in the second one-dayer at his home ground Feroze-shah Kotla in Delhi, and his rollicking 127 in the fourth game at Dharamsala was an indicator of that elusive form returning. 

 

Virat Kohli has shown repeatedly that he learns quickly. He will know there can be no repeat of the England failure on the Test tour of Australia in December-January.

 

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 Kohli showing his deft touch against the West Indies in India

The miserable summer in England was, without a smidgen of doubt, a speed breaker in a journey that was progressing rapidly on the path of glory. It is a burden Kohli has loaded upon himself—to build a legacy, to carve a permanent place in history, to be remembered as a legend. Unlike many peers, Kohli doesn’t merely live for the moment.

“I have been lucky enough to learn at the international level. You settle down very quickly, you learn to play in different situations, playing against the best in the world,” Kohli had told this writer in an interview in August 2013. “My dream was just to play for India, and get one hundred and then another one. You don’t really realize when you are playing but when you sit down alone and think about, it’s a bit scary at times.”

LONDON, AUG 15- England's Stuart Broad appeals unsuccessfully for an LBW decision against India's Virat Kohli during the fifth cricket test match at the Oval cricket ground, London  August 15, 2014.  REUTERS/UNI PHOTO-18R

Kohli’s poor show during the England Test tour was only a hiatus in his path to glory

 

Setbacks aren’t an unfamiliar territory for Kohli. In his debut Test series in the West Indies in 2011, after experiencing the joy of a victorious World Cup campaign, Kohli was brought crashing down to earth. In the three Tests in the Caribbean, he could amass only 76 runs at a dismal average of 15.20. He was promptly dropped. Later that year, he returned for the tour to Australia, where the team was whitewashed but Kohli sparkled with his first Test century at Adelaide and finished as India’s highest run-getter in the series Down Under.

It sparked off a spectacular run that saw Kohli produce jaw-dropping performances across the cricket globe. “It’s hard for me to believe I’ve got these many centuries in international cricket,” he said. “I just like to forget that moment quickly… I don’t want to think about it too much and start doubting myself, thinking that it’s come too early.”

“A 30-40 in an IPL game is nothing compared to a 10 not out or 15 not out at the end of the day that helps another guy win the game for your team in a Test.”
—Virat Kohli

It is the clarity in Kohli’s thought process that is quite striking. Unlike his many contemporaries, Kohli isn’t weighed down by the task of securing a permanent place in all Indian teams. That goal has been accomplished. He aspires to be counted among the very elite to have played cricket.
While his one-day record is spectacular, Kohli has no doubt that the measure of a cricketer’s standing is his success in Test matches. “My immediate goal is to get to an average of 50 in Test cricket and maintain that. I want to be known as a good Test player first and then adjust to all the other formats,” he said. In fact, it surprises him when younger players don’t quite appreciate the value of the longest format. “They should know that getting through a situation in Test cricket is far more satisfying than anything else you will ever achieve in your life,” he said. “A 30-40 in an IPL game is nothing compared to a 10 not out or 15 not out at the end of the day that helps another guy win the game for your team in a Test match.”

It is striking how the on-field persona of a combative individual is in complete contrast to an almost eerie serenity off the field. The image of a brash, tattoo-clad, arrogant bad boy makes him chuckle. “I’ve heard these things so many times that they don’t even bother me anymore. I’ve had these tags along the way but some people, when I do well say, this is the way forward; this is the way to be in the face of the opposition. When we don’t do well, these tags come back,” said Kohli.

“I don’t intend to change the way I think about the game but obviously crossing the line is something that’s not on. I’ve curbed that to a major extent and I aim to do that in the future as well. I’ve made mistakes in the past, but if you keep judging someone from the age of 19 when he came into the side and keep putting pressure on him, then some people get irritated, but I’ve learnt from it.”

Over his six-year international career, Kohli has shown repeatedly that he learns quickly. He will know there can be no repeat of the shambles of England on the tour of Australia coming up in December. And then, there is the small matter of defending the World Cup. As an 18-year-old, Kohli showed up to bat for Delhi in a Ranji Trophy game just hours after his father died and made a match saving 90 runs. He knows what it is to be down, but not what it is to be out.


 Return of the prodigal

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 Under the enchanting beauty of the Himalayas at Dharamsala, Virat Kohli found the sparkling glow that had defined his batting. While the fourth ODI was played under the shadow of the imminent pullout of the West Indies team from India tour due to a pay dispute with its cricket board, Kohli produced an impeccable knock. It was his 20th ODI century and he is now third behind Sachin Tendulkar and Saurav Ganguly for the most centuries by an Indian, and the seventh highest ever. His 127 runs included 13 fours and three sixes and set up a 59-run win for India, also handing it the truncated series 2-1.

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