For Kohli, the next two matches are about legacy
After low-to-modest run-scoring over a protracted period, Kohli needs to reinvigorate his reputation as one of the most dazzling batsmen in contemporary cricket.
Virat Kohli faces the most challenging fortnight of his career when the last two Tests of this tantalizing series are played out. He will be put through a searching examination in multiple aspects.
After low-to-modest run-scoring over a protracted period, Kohli needs to reinvigorate his reputation as one of the most dazzling batsmen in contemporary cricket. But even more than runs, he needs to show tactical nous and sharp leadership skills to quell a resurgent England side that had looked so weak and easy to overcome in the absence of star players like Ben Stokes and Joffra Archer when the rubber began.
If India win the series from here, Kohli’s standing in the game will see a massive uptick. He will have created a magnificent legacy: of shaping not just the best team ever in Indian cricket, but possibly among the finest in Test history.
It’s almost six years since he became captain. Statistically –and I am restricting this to just Tests – Kohli is India’s most successful captain. He’s not lost a single home series. But when you think of legacy, overseas wins carry greater weight. For India it is winning in Australia and England. This has been the team goal and has led to some flip-flop selections, some diabolical tactics and some spectacular cricket: Initially by Kohli himself, then the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah.
With Indian cricket throwing up skillful, wicket-taking fast bowlers in big numbers, Kohli had the arsenal to compete aggressively away from home—often to be let down by the batting. This had kept the win-loss equation overseas in the deficit, till that dramatic tour of Australia in 2018 and an even more explosive tour last season. From never having won a series in Australia in 70 years, India had two successive victorious tours. The second one so remarkable—after being bowled out for 36 and losing the first Test—it had the cricket world agog. Whether this was the best Indian team ever went from question to truism.
This tour of England was to determine what new heights Indian cricket could scale. There was the World Test Championship final, and a five Test series against England. Only thrice earlier (1971, 1986 and 2007) had India won in England, so this was a stellar opportunity to leave an impact for the ages.
The WTC final was a setback where a hardier and better prepared New Zealand got the better of India in an agonizingly close match. There was recompense to be had from the series against England. But after two horrid collapses at Leeds which allowed England to draw level, the portents have turned ominous.
From a neutral position, the unpredictable contest has been great advertisement for Test cricket. However, there’s no denying that India start at Oval on the back foot. Why the situation should be so shaky is of the crux.
There is no dearth of experience, often touted as reason for struggle in England. Of the 11 that played at Leeds, Ishant is on his fourth tour, Kohli, Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Shami and Ravindra Jadeja on their third, Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Rishabh Pant and Bumrah on their second. This is Mohammed Siraj’s first Test series, but he has been to England with the India A team.
luctuating performances—especially in the batting, where top-order players have been losing their wickets in the same fashion repeatedly—throw up issues about preparations before and during the tour. Lack of a genuine swing bowler in the squad provokes a query about selection strategy. Above all, the absence of R Ashwin, India’s most valuable player in the preceding 10 months, was flummoxing even if conditions were loaded heavily in favour of fast bowlers.
This seemingly grim situation can still be turned on its head if India play to potential in the remaining Tests. It will need introspection, resolve, some tweaking of tactics as well as the playing XI. This team has some great wins to its credit. Yet, Kohli would know that truly great teams can’t be mercurial and inconsistent so frequently.