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India vs England: Virat Kohli primed to fix an anomaly, conquer final frontier

How Virat Kohli settles old scores as batsman, this time as leader too, will dictate the course of India’s Test series in England starting August 1.

cricket Updated: Jul 25, 2018 09:32 IST
N Ananthanarayanan
N Ananthanarayanan
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
India vs England,Virat Kohli,Indian cricket team
Virat Kohli is a transformed player since that low in 2014 in England caused mainly due to uncertainty outside off-stump.(Action Images via Reuters)

Call it summer or monsoon it was the other ‘K’ who dominated the Indian sporting space for almost two months. Harry Kane, the young England football captain, took his team to the semi-finals of a World Cup that brought every other sporting activity to a halt, or overshadowed them. But it’s time he took a backseat – surely in India.

The stage now belongs to the other ‘K’ – Virat Kohli. He has arrived to an England summer which feels as dry and Indian as it can. Four years after enduring a bleak patch in an otherwise brilliant career, the India captain knows he can do to Kane in England and elsewhere – occupy the space and minds of fans and media.

The five-Test series starting in Edgbaston, Birmingham on August 1 – the first of at least three sold out matches – gives Kohli the batsman the perfect chance to remove the asterisk against his Test numbers – 134 runs in 10 innings in England on the 2014 tour.

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James Anderson got him four out of 10 times in the series as Kohli floundered against swing in conditions that were far more helpful to the hosts, India capsizing from 1-0 up after two Tests to a 1-3 series loss.

DIFFERENT PLAYER

Kohli is a transformed player, skipper on a mission, and 3,699 Test runs to the good embellished with 15 centuries (he has 21 in all) since that low caused mainly due to uncertainty outside off-stump.

But he will be judged as a batsman and captain, although with the bat he has left his calling card in Australia and South Africa since England.

Cricket fans and adversaries acknowledge Kohli’s aura, as heir to Sachin Tendulkar. He has played down batting comparisons with his idol. But Kohli does face all expectations and pressures of the man he carried on his shoulder after the 2011 World Cup triumph.

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England are not exactly in great shape, and there are doubts over their batting and bowling durability. It will need individuals to stand up. And Anderson saying Kohli will be anxious to score runs makes it clear who they would desperately want to keep away from the crease.

Kohli has said he no longer has the scars from 2014. But a sound start will be crucial, at least to end the talk of leg-spinner Adil Rashid bowling him with a classical leg-break to help England win the Headingley ODI and the series 2-1. If pitches are benign, Kohli will anyway get lot of batting support.

But in England, his leadership will be closely watched, and tested the most. Conditions quickly change, making decision-making vital.

It will make a huge demand on the captain. Even before a ball is bowled in the three-day warm-up game against Essex starting Thursday, there is much interest over how Kohli addresses certain areas, after decisions in the 1-2 series loss in South Africa earlier this year felt more disruptive than proactive.

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Not selecting his deputy Ajinkya Rahane for the first two Tests, and Umesh Yadav for all three matches without any explanation, were two of them. One would never know if India would have won the first of their three big tours if Rahane had provided his typical overseas solidity.

Getting the openers right and whether to include KL Rahul early in the eleven, getting the pace attack going after injuries, taking a call on R Ashwin or Kuldeep Yadav or Ravindra Jadeja if India play one spinner, there will be plenty on Kohli’s, and coach Ravi Shastri’s, plate.

The next 50 days could be the most significant in Virat Kohli’s career.

First Published: Jul 25, 2018 09:15 IST