What Is Virat Kohli thinking?
Virat Kohli, as a cricketer, makes you think. When he led India to the 2008 Under-19 World Cup triumph, he made those watching think of him as a future leader. His showing in the 2009 Emerging Players tournament thereafter then brought out a thought that he could indeed be the leading batsman as well.
Question marks remained however as he lost his way, but recovered to get back on track. It made you think that, finally, a young player has come about who doesn't just want to throw it all away. With his IPL showing in 2009, then in 2010 and a repeat in 2011, he made Anil Kumble think very hard. The legendary spinner ended up proclaiming Kohli as the 'greatest young talent in the world'.
A mature showing in the 2011 World Cup and his golden ODI run thereafter, he made the selectors think of him as a Test batsman ahead of Rohit Sharma. With more and more runs flowing from his blade, the opposition started to think of him as their main threat. With the transition in full force and Indian cricket's fortunes caught up in a perennial down-curve, experts and pundits think of him as the next Indian captain, the man to change around a floundering ship's fortunes.
It can be said that there are a lot of expectations on Kohli's young shoulders. Perhaps no other cricketer after Sachin Tendulkar has shouldered such a burden, certainly no Indian one has. Now that Tendulkar is beginning to walk into the sun-set, this line of thinking only adds to the weight of all adore-mentioned. The underlying point being that no other youngster's future is as important as Kohli's is today. Maybe Indian cricket has found another one to lean its weight on. Because it has automatically entwined its fate with that of this young batsman/
Needless to say, the big question to ask here is this. What is Kohli thinking?
Is he thinking about his batting? The answer to this question, in general, is yes. After a watchful - and very important - hundred at Nagpur, he was forthright in his views. "I have learnt a lot from this innings, the importance of biding my time at the crease," Kohli said. It is something you don't hear much nowadays, not from the current crop, not when they have been on the wrong side of things. He acknowledged playing rash shots, getting out to bad balls and the need to remember this Test innings as a life-long lesson.
By his own admission, Kohli was too eager to do well against England, certainly his form prior to the series warranted that. But, in there lies the big issue. Good players only become great once they realise how to make full use of their purple patches. They will know not to chuck away their wicket off full tosses (like Kohli did in the Mumbai Test), instead grinding the opposition down and getting runs when it matters most. If the arrival of Cheteshwar Pujara on the international scene was the big plus from the England Test series, the big minus was Kohli not being able to see for seven innings that the opposition had a set plan for him. With careful placement of their best fielders at mid-off, cover, short extra cover and deep point, they cut off his scoring, enforcing mistakes out of him.
His relative inexperience, eagerness and volatile temperament proved a hindrance in realizing this opposition plan early in the series and counter it effectively until it was too late. Furthermore, on current evidence, he seems to want to make up for those losses, with eagerness creeping up in his batting again. "This is limited-overs cricket, I am in good nick here." you can almost hear his massive ego tell him that when he comes to the crease. His run of scores tells a different story though. 21, 38, 9, 27, 0, 6, 7, 15 and 37 are his outings against Pakistan and England (ODIs and T20s combined).
The year 2012 is long gone. The New Year is here and he is struggling for runs. The big shots aren't coming and there is evermore a need to settle down at the wicket, perhaps for the longest of periods. Is Kohli allowing himself to calm down?
The barrage of expletives, every time he walks onto the field, leaves Shane Warne a distant second. Verbal abuse isn't the problem here, for even the best players give and take as good as they get. Sometimes the young ones overstep the line, and yes, this is their age to do so.
Yet, in a difficult patch of play, there is this critical need to not allow the opposition to get on your nerves. What will the Aussies do to Kohli in the upcoming four Test series, knowing for a fact, that he is so fragile and liable to mouth off at the slightest provocation?
In turn, all of this hurts his - and Indian cricket's - long-term future plans. If runs stop flowing and his on-field temper keep fraying, how long before captaincy talk becomes disconcerting? Is it a given that he will lead India one day, sooner or later.
One recalls the same said about Virender Sehwag in 2005-06, and about Gautam Gambhir until 2010-11. For them it never happened as scoring runs started proving elusive. Maybe they were too eager for their chance at glory that their primary job took a backseat.
It makes you wonder if Kohli is thinking too much about captaincy as well.