Virat Kohli – The pretender and the throne

“Anushka Sharma ke saath T20 mein busy hoga to Test kaise khelega Kohli….” – the tweet read. The claws are out, the knives are sharpened and operation ‘dethrone Virat Kohli’ has begun.

Cricket is a cruel game – first, it giveth and then it taketh away. Welcome to Test cricket Virat Kohli.

Let’s go back a few days. When India landed in England, not many expected them to win the series. Forget the series, most didn’t expect them to win a single Test. They weren’t entirely wrong. India was on a ‘no win in 14-away Tests’ sequence and according to the experts, this MS Dhoni-led Indian contingent lacked the stomach for a fight and lost their mojo when win stared them in the eye.

The experts were divided in their opinion about India’s fortunes and raised concerns about India’s weaknesses. The opening batsmen were a mess, the middle order was brittle, the bowling was juvenile and the captain had question marks and an arrest warrant hanging over his head.

However, if there was one issue that everyone was confident about, it was Virat Kohli tightening his perch at the sacred number in the batting order and rising to the fore as India’s saviour.

But as Sir Geoffrey Boycott says, “cricket is a foony game”.

1, 8, 25, 0, 39, 28 – three Tests into the series, Virat Kohli is yet to hit a fifty and is struggling to come to terms with the rigors of Test cricket. Clearly, the Delhi lad has landed in the worst slump of his life and poor Anushka Sharma keeps trending every time he walks back to the hut.

That’s India. When Kohli scored those pompous hundreds, his alliances with the Bollywood divas were acts of bravado but now, his flirts around the off-stump are a direct result of his association with Anushka Sharma.

How?

Don’t ask me, that’s the story for the gossip columns and the ‘hit-crazy’ so-called sports websites.

But Kohli is struggling. He is struggling to get his basics right and England is reaping rewards of that. In fact, it was in New Zealand where he first showed glimpses of minor glitches creeping into his technique, especially around the off-stump.

Kohli has a solid technique and he meets the ball with a straight bat. He is light on his feet and has positive and decisive movements. He either goes back and across and gets behind the line of the ball, else stretches right forward. His bat comes down straight and his immensely strong wrists impart power and direction to his shots.

All that works brilliantly when the ball is within the stumps. Bowl him on his legs, he will flick you through mid-wicket. Bowl him on the off-stick and be ready to be scorched through the covers.

The problem begins when Kohli is forced to play around his fifth stump in the ‘corridor of uncertainty’.The corridor of uncertainty is the best line to bowl to any batsman but Kohli seems to have developed a weakness around that. In India, where the ball doesn’t move off-the-track, he can stand up, trust the bounce and slap the ball with a straight bat.

In England, it’s a little tough. The ball not only swings but does things off-the-pitch as well. So, even if one covers for the swing, the seam off-the-track makes it move a tad bit more and if one scrutinizes Kohli’s dismissals this series, him trying to compensate for that extra half-an-inch of movement is evident.

In Trent Bridge, the ball was short-of-good length. If it was in India, Kohli would have stood up and cracked it through covers but at the Bridge, it moved and Kohli had to cover for that. As a result, the feet jammed, the hands took over, the bat face opened and the ball found the edge.

The 1st innings in Southampton saw a similar poke and roll back a few months, Hamish Bennett forced exactly the same dismissal. In Lord’s he got a cracker of a delivery but go back to the 2nd innings at Trent Bridge, Kohli messed up his basics again. Stuart Broad kept it in the ‘corridor’ but this time, the ball jagged back in. Kohli was already covering for the ball moving away, so he went across rather than going forward. The seam movement made his head fall towards the off and sent the balance for a toss. The bat swooshed in front of the pads and he was a dead duck!

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Kohli is an aggressive batsman who wants to dictate the flow of the game and he has the skill to offer the most audacious strokes to good deliveries. That’s what makes him a special batsman, that’s what makes him India’s best batsman and that’s why he is the heir to the throne.

But at times, the audacity blinds one towards their weaknesses and exposes them to the world. That’s exactly what has happened to Virat Kohli. He has become a victim of his own strengths and now he is gifting his wicket to Moeen Ali.

Virat Kohli is a sensational ODI player but in the Test arena, he is still a newbie. It’s tough to score runs in Tests but when you inherit the spot in the Indian line-up, it gets tougher. The glitches cloud the mind and the string of low scores dents the confidence.

And then the real test begins.

For the last three years, Kohli has hardly failed. He broke records at will and dazzled the cricket world with his repertoire of amazing strokes. He chased down unthinkable scores with ridiculous ease and had exceeded almost every expectation. Finally, he has hit a wall and may be this slump was a required reality check for the stylish right-hander.

It’s time to dig deeper because now, a 350-chase at Mohali is a passé. Now, India wants him to do a Chennai 136, a Perth 114, a Cape Town 169, a Jo’burg 111 and even may be a Sydney 241. Kohli has passed the ‘test of skills’ emphatically but now it’s time for the tougher questions.

He has already become one of the most dissected batsmen around the world and the teams are ready with their traps. It’s time for Kohli to step up and destroy those traps. It’s time for him to dig himself out after falling into one. He has already displayed what he can do when he is in form. It’s time he illustrates what he can do when he isn’t in form.

One man did all that for 24-years and suddenly all the records of that diminutive Mumbaikar seem monumental. Suddenly the number four spot feel like a  throne of thorns. Suddenly, the pretender looks out of his depth.

Suddenly India is missing Sachin Tendulkar…Again!

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