Indian cricket’s most iconic figure is facing an unusually protracted lean patch.
Bilal Ahsan Dar
If Virat Kohli were to retire right now in the middle of this terrible form that has plagued his batting over the last couple of years, he would still go down in the history of the game as an all-time great. Kohli has been there, done that! He has left behind a blazing trail that won’t be easy to follow for the generations of batsmen to come.
All these years since his international debut, he has hogged the headlines for his match winning feats. This time too, he remains in the headlines more than any other Indian cricketer. Albeit, sadly, for wrong reasons: a terrible slump in his form. Runs have dried up across formats and he isn’t anywhere close to the Kohli we know. Those hundreds that he would hit at will aren’t coming anymore. Even though, oflate, he has shown some glimpses of his greatness but the moments have been very short. Kohli seems to have lost his mojo – the authority that gave him the X-factor and made him stand head and shoulders above his contemporaries.
The reason for this dip in his form is a mystery. Many former players and experts have their point of view, but there is no consensus on one particular reason. Mohammad Asif, the former Pakistani fast bowler, theorized a technical glitch in the bottom-hand grip of the batsman. Notably, in one of his videos, he brought it up before the slump in Kohli’s form. Once Kohli has a lean patch, said Asif, it would be difficult for him to regain his form. Kohli has now been really finding it difficult to come out of this long lean patch. But Asif’s bottom-hand theory may not have many takers because there are and have been so many bottom-hand batters who lost their form but made a comeback without any particular problem that could validate Asif’s claim.
For many experts, it’s the overdose of cricket that players around the world in general and Indian players in particular play that is taking a toll on Kohli. Some recent events in the international cricket point towards this. For example, Ben Stokes’ sudden retirement from ODIs at mere 31 and in the pink of his health. In his statement, Stokes made it clear that he did not feel able to give his best across all three formats of the game. He conceded that his body was letting him down. Earlier in 2012, another England great, Kevin Peterson, raised similar concerns and retired from white ball format sooner than expected at just 32. He referred to the round-the-year itinerary as “horrendous.”
Two years of COVID and playing cricket in a secure bubble has added to the complications and exhausted the players mentally.
In such a scenario It shouldn’t be surprising if Kohli also retires from one of the formats, most probably T20Is – maybe soon or just after the T20I world cup. .
A general perception of the players and experts, though, is that it is a part of a player’s career – ebbs and flows.
It has happened to almost all the greats of the game. Sachin Tendulkar had a lean patch in 2003-2006, Brian lara in 1996, Ricky ponting in 2000-01. Therefore most of them see Kohli’s poor run as a phase.
Now when the T20I world cup is just around the corner – less than three months away – a big debate has raged in the cricket world.
There’s a school of thought that says Kohli doesn’t merit a place in the World Cup squad. Kapil Dev, the former Indian captain, was the first to raise his voice: “If the world no. 2 bowler Ashwin can be dropped from Test matches, why not Kohli from T20Is?” His views were echoed by former pacer, Venkatesh Prasad who tweeted: “There was a time when you were out of form, you would be dropped irrespective of reputation. Sourav, Sehwag, Yuvraj, Zaheer, Bhajji all have been dropped when not in form. They went back to domestic cricket, scored runs and staged a comeback. The yardsticks seem to have changed drastically now, where there is rest for being out of form. This is no way for progress. There is so much talent in the country and one cannot play on reputation. One of India’s greatest match-winners, Anil Kumble, sat out on so many occasions, need action for the larger good.”
However, Kohli also finds a lot of solidarity from his team mates, board and players around the world. Rohit Sharma, the Indian captain, dismissed the entire debate and called it an external noise. “It’s not difficult at all for us because we don’t listen to outside noise. Also, I don’t know who these experts are and why they’re called experts. I don’t get that,” Rohit said when asked about his thoughts on how the team is looking at Kohli’s form. BCCI president Sourav Ganguly remarked: “Look at the numbers he has got in international cricket. That doesn’t happen without ability & quality. Yes, he has had a tough time & he knows that.” Aussie opener Usman Khawaja took a sharp dig at Kapil Dev’s comments. The ICC on its Instagram page shared a graphic of Kapil’s quotes, to which Khawaja posted a cheeky reply accompanied by a couple of laugh emojis: “Averages 50 at almost 140. Good call. Australia Agrees.”
Nonetheless, there have been some developments that reflect Kohli’s place in the world cup squad may be under scrutiny. He has been rested for the West Indies tour, but, most likely, should return for the Asia cup. A lot will depend upon the comeback he makes in the Asia cup.
Still the competition in the team is so much that Kohli may find it tough to find his spot in the T20 world cup. However his past record and experience in the Australian conditions is a plus for him.
Indian team is blessed with tremendous batting potentials, especially in the T20I format. Players like Deepak Hooda, Surya Kumar Yadav, who are in the form of their life, can’t be left out. Indian selectors may also be tempted to go with the ruthless Australian formula, which believes in team first and not the reputation. India won the T20 world cup 2007 by this formula, leaving out Tendulkar and Ganguly and backing the youngsters.
An added challenge to Virat Kohli will be adjusting to the team’s new template for the T20I matches. As was evident from the recent matches against South Africa and England, the new template is to go bang-bang from the word go. It doesn’t give players the time to use a few balls for acclimatization with the conditions and the pitch. The captain himself is taking the charge from ball one, probably believing that it is better to score a 12 ball 30 than a 45 balls 50. Lower middle-order players like Pant, Pandya and Karthik are all capable of keeping the momentum going. Virat Kohli, on the other hand, is someone who likes to take his time in the middle before he cuts loose. Therefore he will have to adapt to the new template of going all out from ball one to keep his place in the side, which will not be easy considering his form. It will be difficult for the management and the skipper to keep backing Kohli just on the basis of his pedigree and reputation if he doesn’t adjust to the current trends of T20I format.
The fact is that the alarm bells have started ringing for Kohli, particularly in T20I format of the game. It will be interesting to see how he responds to this pressure as he finds himself in an unfamiliar territory he has never been before.
That apart, Kohli is known to thrive in pressure cooker situations and is temperamentally suited to take up challenges. Not just is he physically one of the fittest athletes going around, his mental toughness is second to none. For now let’s stick to the old adage that form is temporary but class is permanent and hope It is just a matter of time when we see him back with a bang.
Bilal Ahsan Dar is a blogger and cricket buff.