Virat Kohli 2.0 can be a modern great
India's Test captain Kohli is no more a fidgety young batsman, but has evolved into a cricketer with better temperament and technique. He now possesses the ability to raise his game on the bigger stage with a grand performance
Virat Kohli during a practice session yesterday on the eve of the fifth and final Test against England, which begins today. Pics/PTI
Chennai: There’s a certain amount of inevitability about Virat Kohli scoring a ton and Ravichandran Ashwin taking five-wicket hauls. Both joined forces again to sink England and clinch the series with a match to go. The fourth Test showed that an important character of a successful team — ‘One for all and all for one’.
You could see Ashwin standing up for Kohli against Anderson, Kohli not allowing his ego to get in the way of playing second fiddle to Jayant and Vijay ignoring a back spasm for the call of duty.
Anderson quipped about how Kohli’s technique might not have changed at all and it’s the pitches in India that haven’t allowed the flaws to resurface. While we wouldn’t know the truth in Anderson’s statements till India tours England again, there’s one important element that he missed out. Technique, in isolation, is of no use, for men with impeccable technique have failed multiple times in trying circumstances. It’s the temperament that guides and empowers technique to make things work. There was a lot of brouhaha about Kohli’s technical shortcomings in England but little attention was given to his temperament at that stage of his career. It’s beyond doubt that he’s worked on his technique since then, for the head is no longer falling over and as a result the front foot isn’t going across either.
But more importantly, there’s a marked change in Kohli’s temperament, for he’s not a fidgety young batsman anymore, who is a little too eager to succeed. Kohli 2.0 is so comfortable in his skin that he’s willing to wait for hours for his prey to come to him. The most important facet of his evolution is his ability to raise his game — the bigger the stage, the grander the performance. He’s fast covering the miles from being very good to a modern great.
Ashwin, a valuable player
A five-wicket haul’s batting equivalent is considered to be a century. Now, when you realise that Ashwin has 23 five-wicket hauls in 43 Tests, you understand the enormity of his achievements. Yes, the pitches in India are spin-ready and yes, his numbers are astronomical at home but aren’t the conditions same for all the spinners participating in those games? There are at least four other spinners plying their craft in the same match on the same pitch, but it’s only Ashwin who ends up with match-winning figures.
If fast bowling is a lot about physical strength, spin is all about the mental prowess and tactical shrewdness. Understanding that the pitch at Wankhede would provide an ideal platform for carom-balls, Ashwin bowled more of them in one match than he bowled in the first three Tests of the series. He also resisted the temptation of bowling quicker in the air to exploit the rapidly wilting pitch, for he’s acutely aware of his optimum speed. In theory, bowling quicker is a sure-shot recipe for success on a turning pitch but in reality, one must know the pace with which they’re comfortable over long periods. Trying to bowl radically faster would compromise both accuracy and longevity.
India’s position in the Test rankings is cemented further with another series victory but that’s when the focus must start shifting to long-term goals.
Can India win abroad?
Does this team have the wares to win overseas too? Let’s look at things that are likely to work for and against this Indian team next time they travel overseas. The core of Indian batting is fairly settled and have tasted success overseas and therefore, it’s only fair to assume that the batting unit led by captain Kohli will pass the test of time. The only concern in the batting order would be about Murali Vijay’s partner, for they’ve changed more often than a one-year changes nappies.
Injuries to KL Rahul, injuries and loss of form for Shikhar Dhawan, lack of confidence in Gautam Gambhir and an occasional change of heart about Vijay has led to instability at the top.
A settled opening combination is foremost to any team’s success in Tests, especially in overseas conditions. The spot at No. 6 is yet to be sealed by Rohit Sharma but the extended home season has thrown up a few other options too. The rise of Ashwin, Jayant Yadav, Wriddhiman Saha and Ravindra Jadeja with the bat has not just strengthened the lower order, but also given Kohli the option of fielding five bowlers. Last but not the least, the fitness of Indian pacers will play a crucial role in India’s fortunes.
In Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar India have a decent attack, but it is imperative for all of them to stay fit, for the next line isn’t as promising. One injury to an in-form pacer can make the entire campaign go downhill.
Aakash Chopra is a former India Test opener
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