Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli were touted as India's marquee players for the tour to England. They'd done well in two tough overseas tours of South Africa and New Zealand and hence it was a given that they'd not only find their feet quickly but also form the backbone of the Indian batting. But that hasn't happened, much to India's disappointment, for both of them have looked a pale shadow of their former run-machine self.
Virat Kohli (left) is felled by a delivery from England bowler Chris Woakes during the third Test, while Cheteshwar Pujara (right) is bowled by Ben Stokes at Lord's. Pic/Getty Images
So, would it be fair to conclude that they're out-of-form? Well, before forming any opinion on this issue it's important to know that there's an inherent difference between lack of form and not scoring runs. In case it's the former, you pick the ball really late from the bowler's hand, your mind is slow to process the information you gather from the point of release and is late to send the signals to your limbs to react in time and reach their appropriate place.
Cook had fallen in that category for the last one year in which he was getting dismissed in the head more often than to the balls that got him. He wouldn't come on to the front-foot to the balls that were full, he would poke the ones that were to be left alone and was late in resting to the ones that came in sharply after pitching.
But that's not happening with the two Indians in question, for the feet are moving fine, they're picking the lines and length correctly and the body is getting (mostly) in the right positions too. This is enough for me to know that they aren't out-of-form and hence they are falling in the second category of 'not scoring runs'. Good news for India.
Can happen to anyone
Let's take one case at a time and focus on Pujara who's looked better than Kohli in the series. He's looking very solid during the time that he's spending on the pitch and then suddenly a mistake happens and he's back in the hut. He doesn't play a rank bad shot to get out but a minor error of judgment is enough to bring about his downfall. In my opinion, his is a case of a momentary lapse of concentration, which can happen to players at different stages of their innings.
Pujara hasn't played any four-day cricket since the last Test match in New Zealand and that may have been a reason for the momentary lapse of concentration in England. He knows how to score big but at the moment he seems to have fallen out of that habit. I'm sure that he'll be back soon.
A different problem
Kohli on the other hand seems to be dealing with a different problem, for he's got a few wicket-taking deliveries early on in his innings and hence hasn't had too many starts. That can happen to the best of players and there isn't much he can do about that. But there's one area of his game that needs tightening up.The first innings at Trent Bridge and the first innings at Southampton have given him something to think about, for these two innings have shown a developing pattern.
He's played at the ball that's at least a foot outside the line of his head with a straight bat and ended up nicking it to slips. Playing with a straight bat is a wonderful thing to do only if the hands are under your head, for the moment they are away you are in no control of the ball. It's better to either leave that ball or play with a horizontal bat.
While Pujara's issue was lack of cricket, Virat's could be too much of limited overs cricket since the last time he played Test cricket. A lot of T20 and ODIs can allow bad habits to seep into your technique, and that might just be the case with Kohli. He was happily leaving similar balls in South Africa and New Zealand but is getting sucked into playing them in England.
There's something good about falling prey to bad habits at an early part of your career. If you learn from them, you have one less worry going forward. Kohli had a serious problem against the short ball in his debut Test series but he dealt with it so diligently that now bowlers fear bowling short to him. And that's why I feel that Kohli will come out stronger and, more importantly, tighter from this spell. Things will turn around for both Kohli and Pujara soon. It's just a matter of time.
The number of runs Pujara (190) and Kohli (101) have scored in the first three Tests