Passionate. That’s the word which describes Virat Kohli – the cricketer and captain – in the best possible way. It doesn’t matter whether his team is winning or losing on the field, the passion to play and win for India is clearly visible through Kohli’s body language. While the Delhi-born cricketer has emerged as arguably the best batsman of his generation, there still remains a minor blot on his exemplary record which he would like to erase in the next two months. (India tour of England 2018)
As you might have guessed by now, this particular blot is related to his Test returns on English soil. On his previous and only Test tour to England, Kohli – playing under MS Dhoni – managed just 134 runs across five Tests at an average of 13.40 without ever touching 40. His vulnerability outside the off-stump was exploited to the fullest by England’s premier fast bowling duo – James Anderson and Stuart Broad – resulting in a dismal series for the current skipper.
Since that horrific tour, Kohli has played 37 matches, accumulating 3,699 runs at an astounding average of 64.89 with 15 centuries, including 6 double-hundreds. These figures, though astronomical in scale, fail to provide an insight into the adjustments that the right-hander has made to his game after the 2014 tour of England.
The most noticeable among these changes has been Kohli’s ploy of taking guard a yard outside his crease which benefitted him immensely on the subsequent tour Down Under. While it helped him negate the swing to a large extent, the adjustment also forced bowlers to shorten their lengths while bowling to him. Though it appears to be a minor tweak in hindsight, the incident reveals that the captain doesn’t shy away from changing his technique if it helps India win matches.
On the current tour of England, however, Kohli is not just the mainstay of Indian batting but has the added responsibility of leading the side through possibly their biggest challenge yet as a team.
He has led India to the No. 1 ranking and unlike Indian teams of the past, the current side has held on to its position with an iron grip. The ranking though is just another step in his dream to leave a legacy akin to the likes of Clive Lloyd or Steve Waugh – the greatest captains the game has seen.
A Test series win in England is something that only 3 Indian teams in the past have had the good fortune to savour. Whether it was Ajit Wadekar in 1971, Kapil Dev in 1986 or Rahul Dravid in 2007, all the three series-winning captains not just had a gritty team to boot but also the desire to win at any cost that helped them reap the rewards. Kohli doesn’t lack in any of those qualities and his team is filled with batsmen who have the nous to share his burden.
In Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan, the skipper has two openers of contrasting techniques which are enough to puzzle bowlers with their ice-and-fire approach at the top of the order.
The No. 3 Cheteshwar Pujara who also suffered a dip in form in 2014, has since established himself into the Test team as one of the most reliable batsmen going around. With an ability to dig in for a big score, Pujara’s hunger for runs has never been in question and he remains the fulcrum around which the rest of the batsmen will play.
Ajinkya Rahane, who is supposed to follow Kohli in the lineup, already has a Test century at Lord’s on the last tour and is, without doubt, the most consistent India batsmen in overseas conditions.
With all-rounder Hardik Pandya and Dinesh Karthik rounding off the recognized batsmen in the team, India seem to have most bases covered as far as their batting is concerned. If these players, including Kohli, are able to bat the way they can, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when the final Test of the series ends on September 11 and Kohli joins the tiny Hall of Fame that includes Wadekar, Kapil and Dravid.