Kohli and Dhoni - substance over style!
Two batsmen battling against odds to defy a much superior opponent – sounds familiar? It was an afternoon at Nagpur that brought back the nostalgia of a certain day in 2001 at the Eden Gardens.
It was a positive day for Indian cricket after a long time. After the series long misery against England, suddenly India turned up with some purpose and intent today. It was a very important day for Indian cricket. Not because of the runs scored or wickets lost but because on the 3rd day of the 4th test at Nagpur, two of India’s most flamboyant players chose substance over style. The “Kings” of limited overs cricket gulped down their egos and dug their heels in to discover the hidden reserves of temperament and skills present in their game and psyche.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virat Kohli had their own battles to fight when they walked in to bat on Day 3. If one was down in a rut, fighting intense criticism and bad form, the other was a victim of his own discretion. However, they had a common job at hand – save India the blues. The day began with the fans betting on exactly when the innings would fold up – before lunch or before tea. With all the ‘Big Guns’ back in the hut, India didn’t seem to have too much in the tank to last through the day. Though Kohli and Dhoni were at the crease, even the biggest fan will admit that they both have been quite a disaster with the bat for India and the fantasy teams of late. While most didn’t give India two sessions, the optimists kept their fingers crossed, hoping for a dramatic fightback.
The fightback came but sans the drama. We, in India, love to over-hype situations. For us, everything has to be larger than life, just like a Yash Chopra production. Even a fightback on a cricket field is often depicted in an SRK–ish fashion. The Laxman–Dravid classic is a prime example and one can’t blame the fans. The setting was grand, the opposition lethal and the partnership an Epic. The grandeur of the Eden Gardens combined with a rock solid Dravid, an artistic Laxman and a dangerous Australia – it had the script of a blockbuster.
However, times have changed and so has Bollywood and Indian cricket. Small budget films are the toast of the nation and so are the battles on the cricket field. Neither Dhoni nor Kohli has the class of a Laxman or the technique of a Dravid but they made up for it with temperament and sheer grit. Both of them struggled throughout the day, yet fought hand in hand to put up a memorable display of batting. Suddenly England was on the back foot and looked disturbed. The sting went out of the Singh and Swann looked in troubled waters. It wasn’t pretty, but mighty effective. If Kohli buckled down and tightened his defence, Dhoni fought on with his ugly jabs and not-good-enough-for-Tests technique.
If the 44 against Australia in Perth changed him as a batsman, the 103 at Nagpur today sealed his identity as a Test batsman. Virat Kohli, who has been India’s best batsman for the last two years now, found out the real meaning of ‘Test’ cricket. For over a year, run scoring has been a walk in the park for him and his bat has made all the correct noises. However, this series has been an aberration. Five innings without a fifty; the critics were sharpening their claws. It was not the low scores but the dismissals that worried the experts. But today, the flirting outside the off-stump vanished and the fancy strokeplay gave way to dogged defence. Throughout the entire first session, he kept his head down and stretched his front foot as far as possible. After lunch, the Delhi dasher got into his own and unleashed his repertoire of shots all over the ground. The cover drives looked crisp and the flick of the wrists had the ball tearing through the outfield. It was a come-of-age innings for Indian cricket’s poster boy and this should put him right ahead in the battle for captaincy.
MS Dhoni, on the other hand, had a different battle to fight. Not only was he fighting England, he took guard against the entire media, angry fans and the tag of being “Not good enough”. People not only questioned his place in the side, there were serious question marks over his ability to lead as well. His insipid ways of captaincy have angered most fans and he has emerged as one of the most hated personalities in India in recent times. But as always, he took his chances. Once again he promoted himself and jokes flew around the social media, tagging him as a night-watchman, out to protect the “Ranji Trophy Bradman”. He came out at number six and guess what, he got “Lucky”. He curbed his natural instincts and took the unglamorous route. He put in the hard yards and was rewarded with an innings of a lifetime. Though he was “unlucky” to be run out on 99, this innings was not only a display of temperament, it was an ode to the fitness of the Indian captain. 145 overs of wicket-keeping followed by a whole day’s batting. English bowlers, media, fans, cramps, self doubt – the man had his plate full but as always, he soaked it all up like a sponge.
However, even after 198 runs, this partnership won’t make it to the cricketing folklore. The partnership lacked fluidity and it didn’t have the flair of Laxman or the solidity of Dravid. It involved a lot of hard work along with lapses in concentration and the odd half chances. It will never be a challenge to the ones at Eden Gardens and Adelaide Oval but it is of immense important for Indian cricket. India may go on to lose the series but it was a day that reinstated the confidence of India’s two most important players. That is the beauty of Test cricket, it lets you discover your strengths and prove your worth to yourself. As Rahul Dravid rightly said on TV –
“Characters and reputations are made on such days….”