Virat Kohli reminds a lot of cricket fans of Sir Vivian Richard’s swagger. To an entire generation brought up on more short format cricket than cricket in whites, he is Sachin Tendulkar minus the modesty plus the swagger of invincibility.
Pressure doesn’t matter to him; big scores, big stages and big crowds spur him on. What scares most batsmen eggs him on as he pulls miracle after miracle.
In the toughest of all tours for any visiting batsman, in the hostile grounds of Australia with baying crowds and bloodthirsty bowlers, Kohli recorded his best batting performance and also one of the finest by any visiting batsman down under.
So, it is only logical, almost like the Law of Averages, that the weakness of a man who looks so good when in full flow, stems somewhere from his free spiritedness, an insouciance for the hardships of a bowler, a certain apathy towards pressure and the insurmountable will to dominate. His Achilles’ Heel is not a vulnerability, rather a show of strength that goes horribly wrong once in a while.
The dismissal at Eden
When Kohli walked out to bat, India were 28/2 in the 12th over having lost both their openers. There was a clear plan, almost like taunting an alcoholic, almost daring him to control himself. But, Kohli doesn’t know how to take a backward step. That is how he plays cricket.
After Neil Wagner peppered him with bouncers, Trent Boult gave him a sucker delivery that he mis-hit airily to gully. A delivery well outside off, it should have been left alone by Kohli. There was no way he could guide it or control it, the way he does with his cover drives.
He either had to fall for the hook shot for which Wagner had plenty of protection in the deep or to the accurate fuller deliveries of Boult for which he had catching positions on the offside. Kohli saw the plan coming from a mile away and still caved in – something Test cricket doesn’t permit.
This is his sixth sub-50 score on the trot following the double century against West Indies in the first Test of that series. Since then, Kohli’s scores read 44, 3, 4, 9, 18 and 9 (Eden Gardens, 2nd Test against New Zealand). As the captain of the team, he probably loses moral rights if he cannot control his superfluous aggression especially when he walks into a situation that asks, nay demands, for restraint.
The most shocking gesture of all is Kohli’s reaction as he walked back. He seemed disappointed but controlled reactions or not, this was not him. He is rarely that apathetic or cool about his dismissals. There was almost an air of surrender or acceptance. The usual Kohli will cringe, hit the helmet with the back of his bat, kick the turf, wait for a while before walking away and do a dozen other things to show how disappointed he really is!
The last five dismissals
After the 200 in the first Test in West Indies, Kohli lost his wicket to a rather innocuous delivery from Roston Chase in the second Test, playing one straight to short leg, trying to turn it to the onside for a single. In the third Test, Kohli was bounced out by a debutant. All he managed to do was fend it straight to first slip when he could have just ducked under it.
It was a pacy and surprise bouncer, but Kohli tied himself into a knot because his first thought is always – cut, hook or pull. He never thinks of ducking and, fending is only his penultimate resort. His scores were 3 and 4 in that Test.
In the first Test against New Zealand, Kohli was dismissed for 9 in the first innings, once again to the bouncer. He pulled at a delivery that was too high and offered no room. It was plain logic that he couldn’t control such a rising delivery.
All he did was offer a top-edge, not even making an attempt to keep his misguided pull-down. Sure, Kohli walked in at 154/2 and had the urge to dominate but his wicket was the start of a mini-collapse as India went to 209/5 within 10 overs.
In the second innings of the same Test, Kohli pulled a sweep shot to a delivery that was not there for the sweep, top-edging again. In each of these five situations, Kohli can justify with the argument that he played those attacking shots when the team really was in a dominant position.
While that argument has chinks too, his shot at Eden Gardens was unexplainable and portrays an affliction that his batting suffers from – the incessant need to dominate the bowlers and let the ego do the talking. His shots almost scream, ‘I am the boss!’ and no one who needs to shout that out, can be the boss.
Kohli’s unusual stats
Kohli’s numbers are unusual too, almost giving us a sneak peek into a run-machine and its dilemmas. Where most Indian batsmen score well, sub-continental conditions, Kohli is poor. His averages are 42.11, 38.83 and 14 in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, although these are still early days.
He did well in South Africa and Australia, but has scores to settle in England. He averages 41 in 6 Tests in 2016 and averaged 42.66 in 9 Tests in 2015, despite a sublime show in the shorter formats of the game. The worrying stat is the percentage of times Kohli gets out early in his innings – 18 times between 0-8, 11 times between 10-19 and 10 times between 20-29.
Interestingly, off his 18 dismissals in single digits, 11 are caught by a fielder, which is often a more inexcusable mode of dismissal compared to bowled, caught behind or LBW.
Kohli, like all batsmen, has a weakness. However, unlike other batsmen, his weakness is not technical. It is more in his mind. Playing at deliveries he should be leaving alone cannot really be a weakness in technique. It is a weakness in temperament, something that has been lauded in unequivocal terms in ODI and T20 cricket.
Playing aggressive shots to tough balls is not a weakness in technique either. It is a weakness of ego, something Kohli has to really pay attention to. He already has 6 innings without a half-century and that number, for a skipper, could get uncomfortable very fast.
It is a long season for India at home, a place where Kohli has all the skills to tackle. But will he come out of his denial first or continue to go out punching, is the million dollar question!