Virat Kohli has said he was “thankful” for India’s tour of England in 2014, when he totalled 135 runs in five Tests, because it has led to his becoming a “really improved cricketer”
Kohli not buying England underdog quips
“I can put it very simply as that was a phase I didn’t perform very well and it happened to be England,” Kohli said on the eve the first Test of the home series against England in Rajkot. “Could have been any other country in the world.
“I just take it as a setback in my career and not motivate myself in a way that I have to prove people wrong or have to do something special against a particular opposition. For me, I’m playing a cricket ball, be it any game, any opposition, anywhere in the world. Those things do not change for me so I don’t put those things in my head”
Kohli had seemed an anxious batsman in conditions that assisted sideways movement, and against bowlers capable of troubling him over after over. To complicate matters, a strength that had made him so dominant in one-day cricket became a weakness – his tendency to hit the ball with hard hands. Over 10 innings, never did he last more than 75 balls at the crease.
Upon his return home, Kohli concentrated on managing this weakness. He had a few sessions with Sachin Tendulkar at the Wankhede Stadium to assess flaws in his game. After the Australia tour later that year, he narrowed his stance considerably. The wider stance served him well in Australia, but the new one helped him stay more upright when facing the ball, and better balanced to press forward or push back. Couple that with better judgement outside his off stump, and the result was Kohli’s averaging 54.80 in 31 innings since August 2014. He has been able to convert seven out of ten fifty-plus scores into hundreds, including two double-hundreds.
This has, in turn, given Kohli the confidence to look back on a tough stage of his career as just that and not think himself weak against a particular opposition.
While Kohli has not often faced conditions where the ball jags around as much as it does in England, those statistics indicate he has not only been careful to start well – avoiding playing away from his body – but also trust in his ability once he got set. The cover drive is a richly productive stroke for him and Kohli has not abandoned it because it could get him out; during the 200 in Antigua, he understood the pitch was good enough to hit through the line and began doing so quite early.
Kohli’s skill and quickness in addressing an issue – whether it was gaining strength to hit sixes in limited-overs cricket or pacing himself to bat long in Tests – has made him a fierce adversary. He expects the same from his team-mates as well.
“On the field, the one thing that we always maintain is the intensity has to be high all the time because you want to make the opposition feel as if you can’t afford to make a mistake rather than giving them an opportunity to get into the game,” he said. “Those are the things we focus on, pretty small targets. We don’t focus on things too far into the future.”
India face England after whitewashing New Zealand 3-0 and reclaiming the No. 1 ranking in Tests. They allowed Kane Williamson only one score of fifty or more. They robbed Ross Taylor of confidence. They had the resources to exploit a turning track in Kanpur, a seaming track in Kolkata, and a basic subcontinent track in Indore. India coach Anil Kumble was particularly pleased that barring one innings, his bowlers have been able to take 20 wickets in every Test since the Caribbean tour. While that was praise of the players’ ability, Kohli spoke about the mind-set the team has adopted.
“The mind set is not to compete anymore, we want to win series, win Test matches, and for that we need to be at our A-game all the time,” he said. “And even keep improving on your A-game as well. The guys are ready for the challenge. I think these kind of matches and series are something you play for, against top sides, it tests your character, it tests your skill and you come out as a better cricketer regardless of the result.
“This team has bought into the idea that a collective team performance is far better than an individual standing out and team not winning. That’s one thing that’s really been pleasing as captain in this particular team. Everyone is really selfless, they play for the side, they play for what the team demands in different situations and that’s the best quality of the side.”
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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