The last time India played a Test series in England, they didn’t have a great time. They fought hard but did not have good returns, losing the series 1-4. The visiting batsmen in particular struggled big time. Virat Kohli had an amazing England series and Cheteshwar Pujara was decent as well, however, the rest of the batting unit didn’t step up.
Among the seven Indian batsmen who faced at least 250 balls in the series, none barring Kohli and Pujara averaged over 30 or had a balls-per-dismissal ratio of 65+.
Kohli’s heroics against England in 2018 are well-known; those who watched the series witnessed his struggles in short passages, applauded his temperament as well as skills and celebrated his success. His runs tally of 593 runs in 10 innings tells that he scored a lot of runs, and a median of 50 runs also speaks for his remarkable consistency throughout the series.
Kohli scored two centuries and missed his third ton by just three runs. While an impeccable Kohli registered three 90+ scores in the series, no other batter did it more than once!
As India are on another long and testing tour of England, the Indian skipper will be under the spotlight again. Because of the brand he is, and his captaincy decisions, Kohli is often the talk of the town. But, his batting is comfortably of the greater value to the side and he would want his bat to do the talking again.
Since India’s fresh overseas cycle commenced in 2018, they’ve relied heavily on Kohli. While there is no denying in the recent rise of Pujara’s stature in away Tests, the main responsibility of scoring runs in challenging conditions is on Kohli.
Kohli rarely had the luxury of a solid opening pair which meant he arrived early on the crease on many occasions. He didn’t disappoint either and more so considering the unfavourable conditions. Kohli didn’t achieve success all the times, none can, but he stood tall for his side quite a few times when others found it too tough.
The bigger challenge awaiting Kohli this time in England:
The pace-attacks of England & New Zealand, the Dukes ball and the overcast conditions will obviously pose a threatening challenge for Kohli. Test cricket is a lot about skills and patience. It exposes the technical flaws in batting like no other format. However, in tough situations, especially in the away Tests, the pressure factor is also huge.
With odds stacked up against the visiting batsmen, the team morale being down, opposing bowlers charging up and asking difficult questions when each run is hard to come by, it can be really exhausting. And, more so, on such long tours in bio-bubbles since it doesn’t end after just two-three matches and continuous failures may not go well in certain circumstances.
If India lose two quick wickets, Kohli will have the additional responsibility of ensuring that they remain in the game. With quality pacers up against him, it will be about grinding hard with full determination in alien conditions. And, Kohli has done it all in the past.
The World Test Championship final would also test the players under pressure because of the ‘ICC final’ tag. The Indian coach Ravi Shastri also highlighted its importance in the pre-departure press conference.
“When you look at the magnitude of the game, it's going to be the biggest. It's a format that tests you,” Shastri said.
England would have planned well for him in 2018 but would look to improve it further. As Shoaib Akhtar once suggested, moving the ball away from him by bowling from wide of the crease is a good tactic against Kohli.
Their skilled pacers have plenty of good experience of playing in England. It won’t be easy for Kohli, one false shot or one edge and he might be gone. However, the key is to control ‘the controllables’ as Kohli himself often says -- by minimising risks as he did in the day-night Test against Australia.
It might not be a lot about match-ups on this tour. Most pacers who would bowl to Kohli are capable of hooping the ball in assisting conditions and the moving ball can outdo anyone, Kohli isn’t an exception. However, he does have the skills and the right mindset to find a way to score runs.
The 32-year-old needs to put on an exhibition of disciplined batting. In order to reduce the impact of the ball’s movement, Kohli has looked to press forward and increase his interception point from the stumps. Playing with the straight bat and close to the body -- it’s known to all, however, the application is the key.
After India’s historic triumph in Australia in 2018, Kohli was asked if Australia could retain The Ashes in England. The Indian captain affirmed and shared his valuable experience of batting in England:
“Because that Dukes ball, it buries egos pretty quickly. You have to curb yourself, do the hard yards, grind it out the whole day. You have to be patient as a batsman. There's a lot of time in Test cricket. Sometimes because we're so nervous as batsmen we don't quite realise it, you just want to get away quickly but in England, you're not allowed to do that, so you have to bide your time, earn the right score runs eventually.”
Kohli focused on patience being the key and suggested as far as to not even look at the scorecard or the number of balls faced. It’s time he follows his own advice again.
India can’t afford Kohli to have a bad trip in England. They struggled badly in New Zealand when their best batsman wasn’t among the runs. Despite being in his ‘middling’ phase, Kohli has scored some tough runs, thanks to the skills he has honed over the years.
After all, doing well against the challenging tides is what separates the best from the rest. The Indian captain needs to lead from the front, and it’s a great occasion to end the century drought. Starting the tour with a good knock in the WTC final would be quite fitting. Kohli would be eager to make up for his failures in the last Test series against the Blackcaps and the World Cup 2019 semi-final.
In the pre-departure press conference, Kohli said, “Have no pressure on me. I just want to take Indian cricket forward. There was no pressure on me previously and nor there is any sort of pressure on me now.”
He probably meant that he has nothing to prove, he doesn’t require any kind of approval from others. But, he needs to rise to the occasion, he will have to!