India’s Test tour of England in 2014 was a seminal moment in Virat Kohli’s career. A moment that led to introspection and sparked a fierce desire within. A moment that led to the performances he dishes out these days as one of the leading batsmen in the world across formats.
Much like his ill-fated IPL campaign of 2012 made him realise the need for serious changes to his diet and fitness regimen if he was to perform consistently at the top level, the 2014 England tour was one which resulted in a deep, hard look at his technique.
Kohli registered scores of 1, 8, 25, 0, 39, 28, 0,7, 6 and 20 in ten innings across five Test matches on the tour. India lost the series 3-1, and Kohli ended the tour as one of the team’s poorest performers. He averaged a dismal 13.50 in his first exposure to Test match cricket in England. There subsequent ODIs too weren’t much better as he scored 0, 40, 1* and 13.
England seamer James Anderson in particular had Kohli’s number, dismissing him four times in the series, with Kohli fishing outside the off-stump and getting caught in the slips being a common theme. Playing with hard hands, something that had helped him score a copious amount of runs previously in ODI cricket, became a weakness in seaming English conditions during Tests.
Two years later, Kohli said that he was ‘thankful’ for his experience in England, which made him a significantly improved cricketer, reflecting openly and honestly about the mistakes he made.
“I used to stand at two-leg (middle stump) and my stance was pretty closed,” Kohli told bcci.tv in 2016. “Then I figured out that after initial movement my toe wasn’t going towards point. Rather, it was towards cover-point, so anyway my hip was opening up initially.
“So, to get the feel of the ball, I had to open up my hip as I was too side-on. Anyway, I had too much of a bottom-hand grip and I didn’t have too much room for my shoulder, to adjust to the line of the ball, so it was getting too late when it swung in front of my eyes.”
This wasn’t just a vacuous realization, but one born in special one-on-one training sessions with Sachin Tendulkar at the Wankhede stadium after he came back from England. In particular, a change in Kohli’s initial movement was crucial to him performing the way he has done on overseas tours ever since England in 2014.
“Sachin helped, as he told me that I have to approach a fast bowler (forward press) just like you approach a spinner,” he said. “One has to get on top of the ball and not worry about pace or swing, you’ve got to get towards the ball and give the ball lesser chance to move around and trouble you. The advice helped me and became my second nature.
“I did some drills, making sure someone is recording me from the side. Every time I played the ball, I wanted to make sure that my toe is pointing in towards point rather than cover. That’s how I kept my hip nice and side-on and gave myself room. I widened my stance as well so that I have good balance when I wanted to go forward.”
India’s 2014 tour of England is the nadir of Kohli’s career. But since then, he has gone on to stamp his authority on tough Test tours to both Australia and South Africa. Kohli finished the Border-Gavaskar Trophy of 2014-15 as the series’ second highest run-getter behind Steve Smith, scoring 692 runs which included four centuries. In South Africa earlier this year, he finished as the top scorer in the three match Test series, scoring 286 runs across six innings at an average of 47.67 in perhaps the most challenging batting conditions witnessed in a Test series in recent memory.
Think back to England’s 2016 tour of India, and the hosts dominated the same opponent that had caused them so much trouble the last time they played a Test series against each other. Kohli ended the five-match series as top scorer with 655 runs, and the team completed a 4-0 rout under his captaincy. But his old bete noire, Anderson wasn’t convinced that Kohli was actually a better player than the one he had dominated a couple of seasons back. His theory - flat Indian pitches which were making Kohli look good.
“I’m not sure he’s changed,” Anderson had said. “I just think any technical deficiencies he’s got aren’t in play out here. The wickets just take that out of the equation. We had success against him in England, but the pace of the pitches over here just takes any flaws he has out of the equation. There’s not that pace in the wicket to get the nicks, like we did against him in England with a bit more movement. Pitches like this suit him down to the ground.”
The Indian captain has already registered scores of 75, 45 and 71 in the recently concluded ODI series against England, suggesting that he is finding his groove for the red ball challenge that lies ahead. This is a chance at redemption. Virat Kohli has scored runs in every part of the world since 2014, it is time now to tick off the one remaining box on his CV.