Virat Kohli is going through a rough time with the bat. He has been a far cry from his own high standards, especially in the last 21 Tests starting from the calendar year 2019. He has touched the three-figure mark only twice, unlike the previous two years in 2017 and 2018, when he scored five centuries each in addition to six half centuries in these two years. In the year 2016, he scored four centuries. When one sees the other numbers, in particular his collection of runs in three consecutive years — 1215 in 2016, 1059 in 2017 and a career-high 1322 runs in 2019 — he was in the form of his life and was regarded as the best batter in the world. Clearly the Coronovirus-19 pandemic in the last two years and living in a restricted environment has affected most of the cricketers.
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In a highly curtailed year in 2020, England’s Ben Stokes was the highest run getter with 641in seven Tests and 12 innings. For India the highest in the year was Ajinkya Rahane with 272 runs in four Tests, with Kohli behind him, Cheteshwar Pujara, Mayank Agarwal and Hanuma Vihari at 116 runs in three Tests. This was the year Kohli returned from Australia after playing the first Test at Adelaide for the birth of his first child, leaving the captaincy mantle to Rahane.
This year, the England captain Joe Root has been in phenomenal form with six centuries for an aggregate of 1455 runs from twelve Tests and 23 innings. He is followed by India’s Rohit Sharma. Kohli is fourth behind Sharma (906 runs from 11 Tests and 21 innings), Rishab Pant (706 from 11 Tests and 19 innings) and Pujara (686 runs from 13 Tests and 24 innings).
Kohli has scored 483 runs from ten Tests and 17 innings. His average in 2020 was 19.53 and this year (one more Test to be played against South Africa at the Centurion), it is 28.41. The discerning have taken note of the drop in numbers and trying to decipher what could be the cause of his below par displays against Australia, England and New Zealand.
Anshuman Gaekwad who has been a player (40 Test matches) , manager, coach, selector, says he’s not at all surprised by a top class batter going through a lean patch. “Virat has to do some soul-searching. He has to go back to the basics. This (lean patch) has happened to many cricketers. Sunil Gavaskar in 1974, then to Jimmy (Mohinder Amarnath). They tried everything, defend and attack, but never got the runs. The same thing is happening with Virat. It’s a cycle.
“It’s just that you go overboard with your confidence etc, and you develop certain habits, as an outcome of which you are nowhere. Virat is very impulsive; he is not like Sunil or Jimmy. He wants to get going. But how to get going, he doesn’t know. That’s where the batting coach comes into the picture. Either Virat is trying to be defensive or aggressive. There is nothing in between. That’s Virat’s problem.’’
Gaekwad who played alongside some of the best Indian cricketers said: “Virat is a great player, there is no question about it. He is a proven player. But I have not seen something like this happen, the way it’s happening with him (Virat), to Sunil, Vishy (Gundappa Viswanath), Dilip (Vengsarkar), Jimmy (Mohinder Amarnath). I have not seen this happening to Sachin (Tendulkar), Rahul (Dravid), Sourav (Ganguly) and Laxman. There is something extreme about Virat’s nature which is bothering him. All the techniques which worked for him earlier, may not work now.’’
While suggesting that Virat has to change his approach to batting, Gaekwad felt that the India skipper need not be overcautious. “All he has to do is look for singles and singles and twos. But he wants to hit boundary shots. The moment he sees something in his range, he goes for it. He doesn’t know where his off stump is. When you play of the front foot, the shot has to be towards cover, mid-off and mid-on, not towards point. There has been batting coaches, but India has been struggling with its batting in the last couple of series. It’s the bowling which has taken the brunt. What have the top and middle order done? We did not have a video analyst to consult. Today it’s all there.’’
Gaekwad recalled an incident in his career when he and Sunil Gavaskar had to seek the help of a renowned coach. “We went to meet coach Kamal Bhandarkar in Pune. Both of us were not getting runs, and we sorted out our problem at the Deccan Gymkhana. We got our basics right, and we came back strongly. Look we — myself and Sunil — went to Pune in the middle of a series to meet coach Bhandarkar. We were there for two days. And he (Bhandarkar) just put up that hanging ball. Then our foot movement became straight, our hands which was going away from the body became straighter because we had to keeping hitting the ball, not once or twice, but fifteen times without a break.’’
The former India Test opener doesn’t agree with some people who believe that Virat is past his peak. “I don’t think he is past his peak. I would not say that. He is fit, and his reflexes are good. It’s a phase that happens to every cricketer in his career. In 1972, when I played for Baroda in the Ranji Trophy, I was out for zero five times. And in 1974 I played for India. Azharuddin got three centuries in his first three Tests had a lean patch. But I and Vishy (Gundappa Viswanath) were the selectors, and we said he is a guy who should be continued. Look Virat is a fit guy, these guys are really fit. One can attribute his indifferent form to playing across all formats, mainly the Twenty20. In Twenty20, the pitches are different, the line of bowling is different, the fielding positions are different.”
Gaekwad who watched the last two days of the India – New Zealand Test at the Wankhede Stadium said that any batter, including Kohli has the option to go back to the basics." He has to do some soul-searching and think about the best he has played. I don’t think he is doing it. He has to just look for singles, no hard pushing and hitting. He should play with soft hands and know where his off stump is. My advice would be: Leave everything that’s outside the off stump. Leave the half volleys outside the off stump. That’s what Sachin (Tendulkar) did in Australia. The Australian fast bowlers tried everything, but he did not touch them.’’
It’s not only important to know where your off stump is; you should also check your balance to make sure that you are not falling on the off side; that’s the worst thing that can happen to a batter. When you are in form, everything goes well. You connect everything. Kohli has to do all this by himself, by soul-searching. He is not over the hill. He has to get down to the basics. He must understand how he started, scoring big. Look Virat has the class, one big innings, and he will be fine. Once Vijay Hazare asked me why am I getting out in the 30s? He said that’s the time when I have to work harder and score singles. These were his words. That’s what he used to do to get to the big scores.’’