Thursday, October 9, 2014

Can Virat Kohli wriggle out of the run-drought?

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

The competitiveness of a team is diluted when its top batsman is hopelessly out of form; it gets even worse if the slump in form is a prolonged one. The Indian team is plumbing the same as the batting department’s top gun Virat Kohli is going through a torrid time with the willow.

We all know cricket is a great leveller. The Delhi lad has been consistency-personified over the last few years barely putting a foot wrong with the bat. For someone who exuded an impression that he was ‘parting hard’ every time he strode out to the wicket and asked questions for which bowlers invariably did not have an answer, Kohli looked a pale shadow of his former self. The young turk, who clearly knew where his off-stump was, and was adroit at leaving balls outside off-stump as well as proficient in dealing with the short-pitched stuff besides pouncing on the loose balls by employing the cut and pull shots effectively, saw the script go horribly wrong transforming into an iffy batsman bordering on unsure footwork and unconvincing movement.

Not learning from his mistakes

How can somebody like Kohli who countered the incisive Australian pacers during the 2011-12 tour with dogged determination and oodles of concentration even as the big three – Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman – struggled like novices look so ordinary? How can a person who has scored runs in all conditions (got Tests hundreds in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand) suddenly develop technical kinks?

A person who could do ‘no-wrong’ with the bat not long ago suddenly can’t do anything right! The cheap dismissal against West Indies in the first one-dayer at Kochi, where Jerome Taylor prized him out with a delivery that held its line even as the Indian defended with an angled bat while pushing himself on the back foot resulting in an outside edge gobbled up by Darren Sammy at slip, only summed up how out-of-sorts Kohli has been in recent times.
The latest act in Kochi shows Kohli is not learning from his mistakes. The Indian batting mainstay experienced his worst during the five-match Test series against England, which the hosts won 3-1 after losing the second Test at Lord’s. His poor aggregate of 134 runs at a paltry average of 13.40 in the five-Test series against England (from ten innings), where he failed to scored a fifty, crippled India as the team heavily banks on him to lay the strong foundation. Kohli continued to perish to the England bowlers around the ‘corridor of uncertainty’, keeping their slip fielders busy playing away from the body either offering thick edges or playing across the line.

It was evident that Kohli was not spending adequate time at the wicket. Save for the third Test at Southampton, where he batted close to two hours for his knock of 39 which happened to be his highest score of the series, and hung around for an hour for his 20 in the second dig, it was apparent that he did not have any long haul, which steadily hurt his confidence as the series wore on

It is always said that a player should look to make the most when he is in good nick as one never knows when a bad run arrives. Stats would indicate that Kohli strongly believed in the above saying enjoying his good run to the hilt – ever since soaring in confidence after his maiden Test century (116) against Australia at Adelaide in January 2012, turning into a run machine for India. The fact that he has managed to notch up centuries in home Test series against New Zealand, England, Australia in the 2012-13 season and then followed it up with tons in the overseas Test series against South Africa and New Zealand in the 2013-2014 season speaks volumes of his consistency. Just to delve more on the stats, he has scored a hundred in every Test series since that magnificent Aussie tour of 2011-12 barring the two Test series against West Indies in November 2013.

The above only underpins the high levels of consistency Kohli maintained all these years in Tests, not to speak of the humongous manner in which he contributes to the national team in the one-dayers where he has made it a ‘pleasing habit’ of scoring tons and pacing the Indian chases. He has been the principle run-maker in Indian ODI chases, and we all know that –  if Kohli gets a hundred or a breezy 70, 80, or 90 – our team is on the doorstep of victory.

The bodacious consistency of Kohli no wonder has time and again prompted lavish praise from cricket greats (both past and present) across the globe over the last few years. So, the question that is on everybody's lips is can he wriggle out of the run-drought? There is a general line of thinking that Kohli is squaring up too much and that deliveries that hold their line are posing maximum problems for him with edges flying thick and fast to the slip cordon or to the keeper. He needs to be more assured with his footwork, whether he is playing on the front foot or back foot.

There is absolutely no need to press the ‘worry button’ as yet, as the guy who used to tower over the opposition bowlers must be given the confidence to regain his form. One would call it a blessing in disguise: Kohli’s loss of form happened in England and one can be upbeat about him blazing a trail at the 2015 World Cup as the lean trot is bound to end sooner than later. Pep talks from various former players are fine, but the Indian batsman must avoid any confusion in the mind, as it can be detrimental to his form-regaining plans.

Like the old saying class is permanent and form is temporary, Kohli would have to keep plugging away and wriggle out of the run-drought.

From the Indian cricket perspective, one hopes the youngster gets over this phase and packs all guns in the upcoming Australia tour: a place where he announced his arrival on the international stage. A return to form can be the best thing to happen to Indian cricket ahead of the highly demanding Australian tour.

Stats file of Virat Kohli

Last Test Century: 105* vs New Zealand Wellington, February 2014
Last ODI Century: 123 vs New Zealand Napier, January 19, 2014
Last One-day International Half-Century: 82 vs New Zealand Wellington, January 31, 2014
England Tour: Accumulated 134 runs off ten innings at an average of 13.40. He had six single-digit scores including two ducks, with a highest score of 39 in the third Test at Southampton

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