Every morning, I try and squeeze the hell out of a lemon. Yet I don't squeeze the hell out of it. There’s a trick to it. Before squeezing, roll the lemon under your palm, flatten it a little. Then slice and squeeze the pieces together. Reversing which one goes on top ekes out the last few drops.
Virat Kohli, as India team captain, could be me, and his players, lemons.
He probably wants to squeeze them for all the juice they have, but there will be times, they don’t give any. What should he do then? Try another lemon? Or roll his palm over?
Over the last two years, Cheteshwar Pujara has squeezed himself for all the juice he had. And some more. Yet often enough, he’s replaced by another lemon, Rohit Sharma. A very talented lemon, we’re told. A lemon that has the potential, we’re told, to deliver a lot of juice. Yet, come five days, and Rohit seems all juiced out. Even before he’s squeezed.
But what does Kohli do? He believes in Rohit-lemon, and wants to squeeze him. Again and again and again. He knows, like once Ravi Shastri knew, and Sunil Gavaskar knows, and Leonard Cohen sang, Everybody Knows.
Only everybody on the other side, the uninformed people who’re just watching the game, know this Rohit-lemon is turning out to be a bit of a joke. In a dull Test series, he was the only comic relief. A funny lemon really. A lemon with a pout.
Everybody waited for Rohit-lemon to fall before the break. But he did not. Could Rohit-lemon prove all of us wrong?
The new ball had been seen through, here was a tailor-made chance, coming in at five, to score those runs, and shut us all up.
But, but, but, you know what happened? What often happens. One delivery moved away, edged Rohit’s edge, and squeezed his wicket out. That was that.
What about Cheteshwar Pujara? He was sitting watching, a lucky break to not be playing, on a wicket that, excuse the expression, had a bit of juice.
Whether Rohit-lemon gives some juice in the second dig is beside the point. Should he be even there? Shouldn’t someone else be squeezed out, someone who has a lot more to offer, someone who has offered a lot more.
Not too long ago, both Kohli and Pujara had six Test hundreds. Pujara’s strike rate in Tests was even higher than his captain’s. All this has been, and if it hasn’t, should be documented.
Then something happened. That rough away series in England, where James Anderson snared Kohli in his sleep.
India won Lord’s. It was Rahane’s Lord’s. So it’s been often said. Before it was Rahane’s Lord’s though, it was 11 for 1 with Shikhar Dhawan out early again. It was Pujara and another unsung Test hermit, Murali Vijay, who stonewalled the conditions. Pujara for nearly three hours for an invisible 28, Vijay for over 90 minutes for his 24.
These are not scores that make the honours board. These are not scores that inhabit the commentary box. These are not scores that merit an IPL spot. These are scores that put the scorer in a spot.
The leaves don’t add up to runs. The leaves don’t take the shine off the new ball. The leaves, in Kohli’s book, are lost scoring opportunities.
After yesterday’s toss, Kohli talked about how Rohit can change the match in a session. The same Rohit, whose strike rate is 51.73 in Tests. Less than Kohli’s 53.69. But more than Pujara’s 48.20. And much more than Vijay’s 46.88.
Vijay and Pujara left too many balls. Scored too few, too slowly, for an India in a hurry. For an India that wants to win, win mercilessly big, and mercilessly beautiful on shiny, flat pitches without a blade of grass or a hint of crack.
It has been done in the IPL, it has been done in the World T20, it has been done and it will be done again – in Tests, against the West Indies, who are not worthy of our contempt or of our leaves.
We will bash them into submission. And if an Indian can’t, a Mumbai Indian will.
With such belief the Indian cricket empire will be built – in a day, in three hours, and if need be across five days.
Nothing can stop Virat Kohli. Not even Virat Kohli himself. Not cricketing logic. Not records. Not Pujara, not Vijay, not a shiny, moving ball. Not the success of number four. For Rohit, he will become number three, for Rohit, he will sign on a blank cheque; because, he admires Rohit.
And will prove to you, once and for all, Rohit is no lemon. Even if that means he is one.