Kohli's India vs Morgan's England: Character, Ambition, Pride... and a series on the line
“There is a time in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune”
- William Shakespeare
And then there is authenticity, the ability to wake up every morning, stand in front of the mirror and be proud of the person staring back at you. Or, you can wink at that person, and mutter words to yourself, to be better, to be better than yesterday, to be better than anytime before.
For when Virat Kohli leads his band of proud men clad in blue against a marauding England side floating around with a lot of conviction, there won’t be any mirrors, there won’t be any winks, but there will be words, not muttered, but bellowed out loud. Ahh, but then there will be performances, there will be results. Who needs the mirror when you walk back knowing what your efforts have yielded.
So ask Kohli what he wants, he will not mince any words in charting out his ambitions; ask Kohli what he believes, he will not look away and eek out a few inconspicuous words, ask Kohli what to expect, he will smile and say, it is all about the effort, for while the results can be fleeting, the efforts remain constant.
“The character they showed is something we are really proud of. As captain, very happy to see that,” he thundered after his side swatted away the hosts in the T20I series.
“We backed up something and the guys produced the goods for us. We will continue to try different things in the batting order and the bowlers. The guys are taking this as an opportunity. Great to start with a series win," he quickly followed, charting out his ambitions, speaking about the efforts with no lack of panache.
And, on the other side are England, waiting for Football to come back home, with a sense of calm whenever their ODI team take the field. It has been coming home ever since they turned over the entire system back in 2015, ever since they started belting away opponents, ever since they identified caveats and started looking for solutions, instead of stop-gap arrangements.
As the number one side, the format has certainly come back home, they are playing at home, and yet India are staring them in the eye, so different from any of the teams they have chewed up and spat out over the past three years.
For England the template has been rather simple; flaccid pitches, featherbeds for batting, rampant stroke-makers, a hapless white ball and the constant bashing to the boundary ropes. All so mundane, all so exciting, all so fruitful, all so ODI cricket.
They blanked a wretched Australian side, they were pulled crashing down to Earth by a far more settled and pointed Indian side. Well, the pitches were still the same, the batting was still the same, the opponents were just better; they spun their way across the flashy blades in Manchester, almost choked them in Cardiff, and then the batting firepower sent them on a wild leather hunt in Bristol to seal the deal!
For all the flair, England still struggle against wrist spin; Kohli has two of them. Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal are not massive and yet when they hop and skip in and when the ball fizzes out, the batsmen are made to look like clowns in a circus when the audience is not laughing at anything they are performing. It becomes deplorable, it is just what South Africa encountered earlier this year, it is just what happened in sporadic spells in Manchester, Cardiff, and Bristol.
Are India favourites then? Virat Kohli might give this question a pass, but the statistics certainly ain’t looking anywhere.
Kuldeep and Chahal wreaked havoc against South Africa, and for all their craft, the Proteas were not the strongest side, with injuries being a constant scourge. They picked up 33 wickets between them, but then the established players were not there to pick these spinners too.
It might appear England struggle against spin, for the common notion is more about the smokescreen than the actual facts, but break it down and there is a far more rosy picture.
2015 World Cup is the marker here and since that sloppy end to a very docile tournament for England, their batsmen have averaged 59.03 and scored 6.33 runs per over against wrist spin in ODIs.
Only India trump them.
Yes, Chahal and Kuldeep are fine exponents of their craft; yes, they will be the x-factor for India, but England are no cats on a hot tin roof. The pitches won’t be their biggest ally too, so perhaps this is their biggest test, their biggest trial.
What should we expect from this series, should we even expect something or wait for it to hit us in the face as and when it does hit, because these are the two teams which have dominated world cricket more than anyone else.
England can boast a 46-19 win-loss record since their ouster from the 2015 World Cup campaign, India can hit back with a 39-19 win-loss record in the same period.
And as Shakespeare so famously said about grasping the right time, about identifying the appropriate moment to pounce at the opportunity, the two teams, ranked one and two, will go for glory, thrice across the course of the series; who falters and who marches on will unravel the fortune of not only the teams, but also speak a lot about the leaders and his pack.
We have not even mentioned the repercussions which might be felt leading into the 2019 World Cup played on the exact same pitches. We don’t need to, do we?