Is it time to reach out to Indian cricket's Master Yoda?
Virat Kohli has now attained what very few sportspersons and even fewer cricketers achieve – greatness barely half way through their careers. This greatness is as much about the runs he’s made to the cliffs he’s scaled to make these runs. Early articles on Kohli, when he was chasing greatness like just another second innings’ chase in an ODI, would often remind us of those cliffs. They have been documented, and will continue to be told, whenever a long story of Kohli’s origins and rise beckons. That’s for another day.
This is for today, now, as we stand, as Virat stands, days before the final Test match against Australia in Dharamsala. Series locked at one all, with the Indian captain gridlocked into not scoring runs. The series has taken to theatre, and often Virat has been, both by choice as by default, one of its leading protagonists.
How many No.3 batsmen-captains will have it in them to not back down when their bats have all but backed down? Virat may not add many more to his tally of 46 runs from five innings, but it’s unlikely that he will take a backward step on the field.
Is this right or wrong? Is this harming his game? Will this feed his game in Dharamsala? Are the two even related? Was Virat any different before, when he scored runs? Did he just mellow, when the opposition appeared to mellow and cave in rather meekly?
As we close-in to the end of a long home yatra for the Indian Test team, it’s obvious that Virat finds comfort in his extroverted ways, form or runs do not dictate how flash he behaves. He’s as much as leader, as 12th man – applauding another Aussie review gone wrong from the dressing room, with an almost manic happy energy of a Tendutard across that final lap at Wankhede.
And therein possibly lies the answer – Sachin Tendulkar. Virat may or may not choose to change anything, but as in the past, Virat needs fresh answers, or even better, fresh questions - what would Tendulkar do now? After 46 runs in the series, what would he do?
Would he eliminate the cover drive? Would he back down? Would he not play it all – not for the first half hour but right through the innings?
In Pune, on the second ball he faced, a loose drive of a full-wide one from Starc cost Virat his wicket. In Ranchi, on the 23rd ball he faced, a loose drive of a Cummins’ half volley cost him his wicket.
In between, Virat has been LBW twice and bowled once. Maximum of 37 deliveries faced in the series so far.
That Virat has been able to expend so much on his shenanigans in the middle and on the sidelines through this lean patch is baffling. A lesser player would have curled up into his shell choking on his lack of runs. Not Virat though, he appears to get off on conflict, even more so on inner conflict.
In Ranchi, when Virat was off the field after the 40th over, for close to the next 100 overs of the Aussie innings, there was a dullness to the game – and it had little to do with the cricket or Rahane’s captaincy, and everything to do with Virat’s absence.
The game’s biggest character was off the field. He came on 168.1 overs later. India 193/2. The game n the balance. For 10 overs, when he batted, even though he scored only six of the 32 run partnership with Pujara, there was a certain electricity on the field. Until he played that cover drive that cost him his wicket.
More than 13 years ago, against Australia, India’s then No.4 batsman, Sachin Tendulkar, came in to bat at the fall of the second wicket. He stayed unbeaten at 241. He did not play the cover drive once in that innings.
A large part of Virat’s game is built on efficiency over the pretty; and even though his cover drive can be just as pretty as Sachin’s (okay, that’s a debate for another day), it’s time to get ugly with the bat.
Obvious as they might be, perhaps the answers lie beyond this team’s coaching stuff. Perhaps, Virat needs to counsel someone who he perceives to be more his batting equal. Perhaps, Virat needs to dial Sachin. After all, it does seem like a long time someone said, “Thank You, Sachin” to Indian cricket’s Master Yoda.