It is not easy being Virat Kohli. Not easy when he is scoring runs by the tons for the country or for his IPL franchise, Royal Challengers Bangalore. Neither is it easy being Kohli when he is not scoring runs and finding different ways of getting out, as if bad luck is chasing him for a prolonged period and in whatever he does with the bat
Kohli’s average of 16.00 in nine matches so far in IPL is only better than what he averaged in the inaugural edition of the IPL in 2008 – 15.00 from 13 matches when he was fresh from winning the India under-19 World Cup as captain and had not broken into the senior Indian team.
After establishing himself as a world-class batsman across all the three formats and playing them continuously with minimum break, Kohli has hit a rough patch this IPL. He is at an all-time low that can be matched with the 13.40 he averaged in five Tests on his first tour of England in 2014. Perhaps, Kohli has hit a mental block that he is trying too much and in the process not clicking. Perhaps, his over-anxiety to succeed at every single outing is not how he played his cricket all along.
Or it is just pure luck. After being dismissed by a beauty from Kolkata Knight Riders’ Umesh Yadav, he was run out either with his bat just on the line at the time of the stumps being broken or was done in by the brilliance of Lalit Yadav, who had only one stump to aim at. Or, he thought he was given an unfair decision to, after all the bowlers, the first delivery of part-timer Dewald Brevis of Mumbai Indians. If nothing else, he chased deliveries to get off the mark quickly and in the process get dismissed.
Kohl nearly fell for a third successive duck when he opened the batting in his last innings against Rajasthan Royals last Tuesday. There were indications that luck was on his side when the ball fell just short of short square-leg fielder Daryl Mitchell in the first over of Trent Boult. Luck was again on Kohli’s side when an inside edge narrowly missed the stumps and raced for four past the wicketkeeper Sanju Samson
However, he ran out of luck, as he has been running out of it for a majority of this IPL when an intended pull took the bottom edge of the bat and flew straight to point, where it was not a straight-forward catch but a smart one pulled off by Riyan Parag, diving in front of him. For a moment, it seemed that the ball flew to point off his helmet until Kohli, after a look of disbelief, started his long walk back to the pavilion. Gone for nine, Kohli at least averted a hat-trick of ‘golden ducks’.
So, what is it that Kohli is going through? Someone who has 23,650 international runs over nearly 14 years, and add to that 6,411 runs and you get a rare batsman with more than 30,000 hard-earned runs, it is only a rough patch that every great player goes through. They have gone through that rough patch, and will go through in the future.
Legendary Sunil Gavaskar has not been able to dissect Kohli’s technique saying he has not stayed long at the crease to understand what he is going through. Gavaskar’s India and Mumbai team-mate, Sandeep Patil feels that a break from the game would do Kohli a world of good. Former India opener and coach, Aunshman Gaekwad, agreed with Patil while also suggesting that it would do Kohli no harm if he dropped down the order. Former India leg-spinner Laxman Sivaramakrishnan felt that Kohli is such a fierce competitor that he is not the kind to shy away from challenges but take the bull by its horns and come back with vengeance.
As the perennial saying in cricket goes, ‘he is just one good knock away’. The sooner that knock comes Kohli’s way, the better, for, India cannot afford to have Kohli out of form in the international assignments following the IPL as this is the year of the ICC T20 World Cup and next year is the year of the ICC Cricket World Cup.
NOTHING TECHNICAL, JUST A BREAK WILL DO FINE: PATIL
Patil, a key member of the 1983 World Cup-winning Indian team, told News18 Crickenext: “He needs a break. It is not that this is something new. It has happened, and it should happen. It is happening at the wrong time. I am not saying it is happening at the right time as I would have said that when India starts playing, then he should come back to form. But IPL is equally important. I don’t see any worries. If I were to make a decision, I would give him a break. He should take a break. The same thing applies for Rohit (Sharma) also. It is not just with Virat. Rohit is also struggling. They need a break. I am not saying a break of one month but a couple of games.
“Rather than being with the team, let him be alone with his family. Being with the team, your mind gets involved. Sometimes, the mind becomes too much to handle. Best thing is to leave the bubble. It is very easy to say that, but it is the decision of the franchise, the coaches and the captain.”
While the Mumbai Indians captain has been getting starts and not converting them big, the former RCB captain has fallen to five single digit scores including two consecutive first-ball ‘ducks’, two scores of 12 each and two in the 40s.
Patil said: “You don’t just expect starts from such players as Rohit. They are not juniors. They are pros. And there are so much of expectations from them. Virat is trying too much early in his innings.”
Patil did not agree that Kohli is going through a technical glitch. “Nothing technical. Just a break will do fine,” the 65-year-old dashing batsman of yesteryear said.
FIERCE COMPETITIVE NATURE WILL HELP BREAK THE SHACKLES: SIVA
Former leg-spinner-turned-television commentator, Sivaramakrishnan said that everybody goes through a rough patch, and not necessarily that Kohli is going through it because he is not the captain anymore.
The 56-year-old Siva said to this website: “Everybody goes through a rough patch. The best of the best go through a tough time. Whether it is technical error or fatigued mind or whatever, with Kohli, what I see is the fierce competitive nature doesn’t allow these failures to put him back and say ‘I will take a break’. The fierce competitive nature that he has, mentally he still believes he can break the shackles. That is his nature. Different people have different natures. Kohli being a very fierce competitor, feels he can get out of the situation by playing. For one who has achieved a lot, you will have to go to the famous saying in Sachin Tendulkar’s Adidas advertisement, ‘Nothing is impossible’. I hope he is just one good knock away from feeling comfortable at the crease. When not in good form, you don’t feel very comfortable at the crease. That is why he gets out early.”
Sivaramakrishnan, who is recuperating from a lower back injury and hence not commentating on the IPL matches currently, dismissed talks that Kohli should be dropped from the Indian team on current form. “I don’t think Virat Kohli is the kind of player to get dropped. There have been times in the past when S Venkataraghavan was the Indian team captain and was removed from captaincy just like that. There have been times when the Indian team captaincy oscillated between Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar. Such things happen in Indian cricket. But Kohli is not the kind of player who should be dropped from the Indian team.”
Siva said Kohli “was perhaps putting extra pressure on himself. When you attain great things, you put extra pressure on yourself. If you are a bowler, you want to take a wicket with every ball you bowl. Likewise, as a batsman, you want to score a hundred every time you walk out to bat. Kohli should set small targets, take it 10 by 10. Move from 0 to 10, then aim to go from 10 to 20, 20 to 30 and so on. Kohli is a supremely fit player. Once physically fit, you are mentally fit too. He is just one knock away.”
Siva added that in Indian cricket, there were too many people to pull one down. “If you put yourself down, it becomes a hopeless situation. What Kohli is doing now is not putting himself down. He is still willing to face it. Even if he fails, he is willing to take failure but not shy away from it.
“Cricket is like life. You have good times and bad times. How you manage the bad times is the key. This is the time he needs the support of people. He should not be put down. He is taking the bull by its horns and one must appreciate his quality. This game is a great leveller. It is people’s general tendency that when somebody does well, they put him on top of the world, and when the player fails, the same people fail to support him. When you go through a rough patch, you get out to a great delivery or to a brilliant catch or a run out. When the time is not right, nothing goes your way.”
The 33-year-old Kohli may be mentally jaded. And, when one is mentally jaded, the responses to one’s game are not up to the desired levels. The response in cricket is the physical and mental coordination.
HE COULD TRY GOING DOWN THE BATTING ORDER: GAEKWAD
The 69-year-old Gaekwad said that what Kohli is currently going through is “confusion with no confidence”.
The former right-handed batsman told News18 Cricketnext: “What he is going through has happened to the best of players including Sunil Gavaskar and Mohinder Amarnath. You try anything and everything. They were technically so correct. It is a phase when nothing works. You try everything. The harder you try, the deeper it gets. It is best to take a break and come back again after playing some domestic cricket. He can come back stronger with vengeance because once you have gone through this phase, you don’t want to go through this again. You become careful. You will probably be respecting the game more than what you did.
“I watched a couple of his innings. Whatever he is trying, he is just getting out. He is not playing badly. He is playing okay. I have seen with my own eyes what Amarnath and Gavaskar have gone through. There could be a technical flaw. It could be mentally jaded or it could be nothing at all. It just happens. I was talking to his coach Rajkumar Sharma and told him what he needs to do.
“He needs to try two things. One is to go lower down the order, say No. 6 or 7 when the ball gets a little softer and the movement is not so much, and where he would get a lot more time to play shots. He is an aggressive batsman, basically. That could click as the wicket could get flatter or slower. The other thing is to take a break, just forget cricket for some time. It happens with too much involvement, mentally and physically that you get to this stage. The anxiety is increasing, he begins to think ‘where am I going wrong that I am getting out?’ You think more and go deeper. As a result, a lot more confusion comes to mind. I always maintain that class remains, form differs. He has got class. He will come back strongly. It is just a phase.”
Gaekwad, who played in 40 Tests for the country from 1974 to 1985, spoke from personal experience of having gone through a rough patch. “It happened to me when I played Ranji Trophy. I was chosen as the No. 4 batsman for Baroda in 1972 when I had five zeroes (1971-72 and 1972-73) consecutively. I was wondering what was happening. I had no answer as to why I was getting out without scoring as I was technically fairly good. I was in a situation where I had no confidence. There was a scare that crept in. When you start thinking, ‘What is going to happen?’ ‘Am I going to get it right?’ These questions are dangerous ones. I came back stronger, the complacency goes, the overconfidence is out of the way, the arrogance is out of your system and you settle down mentally and physically. That is what he needs to do.
“I was told to spend time at the wicket. For Virat, IPL is not the kind where he can spend time at the wicket. The best is to go back to domestic cricket, spend time in the middle and start all over again. Playing continuously in all formats without a break is not a joke. After all, he is human. The body needs a break. Things happen unknowingly and you land up in a mess.”
Asked if not being the captain affected Kohli’s form, Gaekwad did not deny it.
Looking at his performances as a captain, he averages 58.40 in Tests and scored 20 of his 27 Test centuries when at the helm. As a non-captain in Tests, he averages 40.35. In One Day Internationals, Kohli averages 72.65 in ODIs when the skipper and 21 out of his 43 hundreds come as captain. As a non-captain, he averages 50.08. Only in T20I, he has a better average when not the captain – 55.67 – as against 47.57 when he captained India.
Gaekwad said: “Kohli as captain was successful. The added responsibility got him to play well. The mindset he developed as a captain probably helped him a lot. Maybe only as a player, he may have tended to relax and hence not doing as well as he did when as captain. Some people play well under pressure, some others play well without the added pressures of captaincy.”