A tale of two batsmen - Virat Kohli and Phil Hughes
Two batsmen, born just days apart, are now light years adrift in their cricket ambitions. Virat Kohli is a certified international star, now occupying Sachin Tendulkar’s coveted number four spot in the Test side and with all the credentials of a future Indian captain. Phil Hughes on the other hand, is relegated to State duties having been left out of the touring party for South Africa and dropped from the Australian One Day side. His only consolation is the thought of piling up first-class runs — something he does with monotonous regularity — to sooth his wounds.
This is a far cry from where matters stood just a few years ago. Both players were born in November 1988 but Hughes matured more quickly than Kohli. By the time he’d played four Test innings — prior to his 21st birthday — Hughes had amassed two centuries. Kohli didn’t play four Test innings until he was nearly 23 and none of those knocks exceeded 30.
Kohli’s breakthrough came in a Test on the notorious WACA pitch. A difficult strip to handle even for local batsmen, the bouncy pitch was deemed to be a nightmare for Indian batsmen but for Kohli it became his field of dreams. He scored 44 and then 75 and he hasn’t looked back as an international batsman.
India’s Virat Kohli celebrates his 100 against Australia in the Adelaide Test in 2012. pic/Getty Images
Having coped with the most extreme of conditions, he then scored his initial Test century in the next innings at the picturesque Adelaide Oval. He’s accumulated another four since, at venues as disparate as Bangalore and the Bullring in Johannesburg. Adelaide might be the most scenic of his Test century venues but the Wanderers ranks up there with the WACA in importance on a touring batsman’s CV.
Australia's Phil Hughes is bowled by Worcestershire's Chris Russell of Worcestershire during a tour game in England lasy year. pic/getty images
It was meritorious runs on a lively WACA pitch that gave Kohli belief as a Test player. It was his hundred at the Wanderers, against a top rating attack, that confirmed he was a player of great class.
While the WACA was kind to Kohli, Lord’s has been a disastrous venue for Hughes. He’s had two Tests and four innings at the famous ground for a top score of 17 and that’s the good news. Following each Lord’s fixture he’s been dropped and since the second omission, he hasn’t been sighted at Test level, despite Australia’s top order malfunctioning regularly.
Cricket life has been difficult for Hughes. He’s been shuffled in the order since his early days as purely an opener but in reality that’s his spot. He first caught the eye as a young opener, who consistently scored centuries, as he made rapid progress through the grades. However, following yet another setback in his Test career, he decided to revamp his technique.
In retrospect this may have been a mistake, as in making himself a little less vulnerable around off-stump, one of his greatest attributes was diminished.
Previously, Hughes had worried new ball bowlers; they knew he could be troubled around off-stump but they were also aware that a slight mistake on their part would cost them dearly. Since the alteration to his technique he’s lost that ‘fear factor’.
Kohli on the other hand, has remained strong-minded in his approach to batting. Just the other day — after making an ODI century in New Zealand, he defiantly stated: “I even think to leave the ball on a bouncer; it is very important to want to hit the ball.”
Kohli’s simple approach to batting — thinking primarily about scoring — has stood many a fine player in good stead. In the mind game battle, Kohli has progressed while Hughes has regressed.
Nevertheless, the fate of both players could also be explained by a variance in selection policies between the two countries.
After years of subservience to senior batsmen, India has finally been forced to become more youthful and it’s paying dividends. Conversely, Australia who used to depend heavily on young batsmen has now veered away from that policy and is placing a lot of faith in more experienced players. Kohli and Hughes; a case of two batsmen and two philosophies moving in divergent directions.