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What will Virat Kohli do next?

by Gaurav Sethi

Just as the gap between India and Pakistan threatens to shrink, the difference between Virat Kohli and those eleven Pakistanis on the field continues to w-i-d-e-n. India did it again, 11-0, but it really was Kohli who did it again. Pretty soon, there will have to be a differential, one that exposes the ineptness of India's batting around Kohli, and one that focuses just on India's number three.
Shikhar Dhawan scores runs every now and then, on the top of that, he scores ugly runs when others around him fail. Then he plays an innings like he did against Pakistan.
Looking at him bat, you would think it was his first day at a cricket nursery. He had been put there against his wishes, he cried a great deal, his parents were looking on but he didn't know that. He would much rather be anywhere than in the middle. His cricketing instincts were failing him. He would be far happier with a tattooed belan in the kitchen than a straight bat guarding his stumps. Playing on against Mohammad Sami was like pulling the plug on the innings, mercy killing, no less.
But before that was His Imperial Highness Rohit Sharma, he with the silken touch, with two boundaries behind him but a tough chase ahead of him. Ten off ten balls, all going rather well. But playing from that Indian Premier League (IPL) memory on the flat Wankhede pitch, oh, there's such comfort in it.
If leaving a ball outside off seemed surprising, and somewhat reassuring, going for the full monty against the "ordinary" Mohammad Amir's first delivery was delusional. Taking the player on in a war of words is one thing, trying to dominate him from the first ball on a tricky surface is downright idiotic.
More so, seeing the patchy form Dhawan, Suresh Raina and to some extent, Yuvraj Singh are in - even a cricket heretic will point with some conviction to Rohit, there are only two batsmen in any kind of form, Virat and himself. Then there's Dhoni lower down. But the top order is largely non-existent against even a half-decent international bowling attack.
Suresh Raina: a first ball duck against Sami. After an equally clueless second ball dismissal against New Zealand. As India's number four, Raina's form hasn't been inspirational, he seems way out of his depth, angry (as captured in the nets) at being handed a double promotion he wasn't quite after. Is Raina coming in to bat as early as the third over asking too much of him? Was bowling just one over against Pakistan asking too little of him?
Yuvraj appears to be playing from a fantastic memory, one that can be dazzling when those sixes over midwicket come off, but equally puzzling when the blade appears way too narrow to even block a ball. Every Yuvraj innings is almost bipolar, shuffling between the brilliant and the brittle. And Yuvraj not bowling on a turner only undervalues his place in the team. Dhawan, Raina and Yuvraj look like bits and pieces players, definitely not the top order of a top T20 team.
India's lower middle order wasn't tested in Kolkata. Against New Zealand in Nagpur, when they were, there wasn't much to them. The demands against Bangladesh and Australia will be far greater - one, the Indians will look to not just win against the qualifiers on March 23, but win big. That net run rate needs some extreme tweaking if they want to make the semi finals.
And to win against Australia, and win big again, regardless of the conditions, this eleven may just be slowing down Kohli. Is it time to look to Ajinkya Rahane? Or will Bangalore and Mohali bring high scoring flat tracks that will hide this batting's fragility? If anything, the ordinary top order makes Kohli seem even more sensational.
So, what else can Kohli do? Can he add the burden of revisiting the basics for his mates?
"Straight bat, Shikhar, that's how it's done. Head down, Rohit, you got it all covered. Concede the first ball, the next one too, you can take him on in the next over, the next spell. Oh Raina, do some stretching exercises before walking in, and some breathing ones too. Yeah, you need to breathe Raina. You're way too tensed up, way too stiff. Ok, Yuvi Pa, I can continue to praise you but you need more nets. You need to slog it out like me. Ok, is that enough for today, guys?"
Kohli might need to do all that and more. Just like when Sachin Tendulkar used to speak, players listened, Virat may need to take on a mentoring role. It won't stop with the top order though. There's even more work lower down the order. Not to forget that rusty bench.

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