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India vs England: Batting test passed, Virat Kohli’s captaincy caliber under scanner now

Virat Kohli now floats above Steve Smith, Joe Root and Kane Williamson. One can higgle-haggle about who is the best among them, but without doubt they are the leading willow-men of this generation.

cricket Updated: Aug 09, 2018 11:07 IST
Virat Kohli,Surrey CCC,Steve Smith
Virat Kohli celebrates after the wicket of England's Ben Stokes.(Action Images via Reuters)

Virat Kohli has hit skeptics, who thought he’d struggle again in England against seam and late swing, for a six. Though the Edgbaston Test was lost, his century in the first innings – and 200 runs overall -- in a low scoring, tight match was a tour de force performance.

His brilliant batting also leapfrogged him to ICC’s No. 1 position among Test batsman currently. While rankings don’t necessarily ratify a player’s true worth (Cheteshwar Pujara, for instance, is ranked 6 yet didn’t feature in the first Test), for the present it highlights a great rivalry building up.

Kohli now floats above Steve Smith, Joe Root and Kane Williamson. One can higgle-haggle about who is the best among them, but without doubt they are the leading willow-men of this generation. How they fare from here should have fans, critics and cricket academics in thrall.

Kohli’s rise to preeminence must be seen in the perspective of how he had fared in England on the previous tour: 134 runs in 10 innings in 2014 shows him at his nadir; 200 runs in 2 innings on a difficult pitch this time suggest a batsman at his zenith.

A NEW MAN

What explains the dramatic turnaround? He’s obviously evolved over four years, gaining in skills, experience, knowledge and confidence as most players would. But his success in this period also shows that the learning curve has been steep, which is what makes Kohli exceptional.

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In terms of sheer natural ability, he may not be too far ahead of even some of his colleagues. But where he forks out a distinct path for himself is in the temerity and tenacity he has shown to actualise this talent.

Kohli is a combustible personality, a la John McEnroe, with a raging ambition to be the best. He’s can be demonstrative on the field and grandstanding off it, but he has never let his prima donna status dilute his focus, or sense of purpose.

As all great sportspersons do, he challenges himself by setting goals, He’s worked hard on technique, fitness, and mental toughness to achieve them: Far more than anyone else in Indian cricket, if the authority and aplomb with which he’s scored runs is anything to go by.

I reckon Kohli had set his sights on this England tour immediately after the disappointments of 2014, and in the period since has strived and planned to lift his game substantially to ensure that success wouldn’t elude him this time.

Opting for a stint in county cricket as preparation for this Test series was a step in that direction. Injury prevented him from playing for Surrey, but he was not going to be maudlin over this sudden misfortune. Instead, he steeled himself further mentally to make up for this loss.

THE REAL TEST

I’ll dispense with any more paeans as they would be superfluous and focus instead to another challenge that looms large for Kohli on this tour. On test now is his leadership. With one Test lost, how he can help the team rediscover its mojo and level the series – if not go on to win it?

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Captaincy makes huge and unusual demands. Being the best player in the side is not necessarily enough to make the team win as the Edgbaston Test showed. Leading a team in cricket is a complex job.

No two individuals are the same, and particularly in a crisis. There is always intra-team competition, and players could be gripped by performance anxiety, insecurity -- even envy – about their relevance in the team.

This could lead to a player becoming overly defensive, totally reckless, or gripped by fear into inaction. Who to prod in the ribs, who to counsel, who needs a rap on the knuckles, who must be benched for who played is something that the captain must be constantly engaged with.

To make each player – or most of them – actualise their own potential, for a more collaborative effort is the key. As a batsman, Kohli has settled the issue. To leave his mark as captain, and I dare say this is no less important, the task begins now.

(The author is a veteran cricket writer and views are personal)

First Published: Aug 09, 2018 10:09 IST