Kolkata: Form is temporary, class is permanent – goes the age-old adage. However, if the sublime show is evasive for a prolonged period, critics start showing off from their slumber to gun for your blood.
As Virat Kohli walks down for the toss with English skipper Joe Root at Lord’s today, at the back of his mind, the unwarranted inconsistency will haunt him. Knowing Virat and his tenacity, he is the last person to buckle under pressure, but deep down even a person of his calibre would ill afford to overlook his paucity of runs over the last two years.
Have a look at the figures – in the last two years, Virat’s highest score is 74 in Test cricket. In his last ten Test innings, he only has two fifties and no hundred. In fact, it’s been two years that he hasn’t reached the triple-figure mark in international cricket. He was moving speedily on his way to breaking several records, but this modern-day great is finding it hard to convert the 40s into big scores. He had gone through a bad phase in England in 2014 but was able to up his game in Australia the same year. But playing in England and in Australia are totally different ball games as the pitches present more movement and swing in England unlike Down Under where bouncy tracks beckon you.
A Virat fanatic would smirk at such criticism on the ground that barring Rohit Sharma and to a certain extent Rishabh Pant, Indian batters have been found wanting in the last few Test matches. True, accepted, but this is where the danger looms large. If we are to dream of outclassing England on their soil, it is a must that the skipper leads from the front not only with his words but also with the willow. We may have beaten Australia without Virat, but the hope for a repeat of such a triumph would only be wishful thinking.
Secondly, ambitions can run amok. There are aspirants to the top job and even if Virat fails and India win the 5-match Test series, the anti-Virat lobby would recharge its batteries to ask for his ouster from the helm. Looking back at Indian cricket, lobbying and camping have been a bane except for the period when Sourav Ganguly was in charge. Though illogical, murmurs of Ajinkya Rahane taking over (after his feat in Australia) were quite audible.
And no matter how able a captain you are, if form plays a hide-and seek-game with you, your position is at stake. Ask Krish Srikkanth who was unceremoniously dumped as captain despite drawing a Test series in Pakistan for the first time in the late ’80s also Sachin Tendulkar’s debut series.
So who can replace Virat as captain? Rahane? Cheteshwar Pujara? R Ashwin or is it Rohit who has been successful as a leader in the truncated versions of the game?
But hang on guys! For our friends from Mumbai, the Indian vice-captain since that MCG hundred has been in abysmal form – only once has he reached the half-century mark in 14 innings. And the Saurashtra number 3 considered to be Rahul Dravid’s heir apparent needs some succour to salvage his career. Pujara is a pale shadow of his old self and his over defensive ploy is taking its toll on the team especially at an age when a batsman has to up the ante. The days of letting it pass are a thing of the yore.
On the other hand, Rohit hasn’t been patchy – his 161 against England in India set the ball rolling. Talking about Rohit, under overseas conditions in the five-day format, the big scores have eluded him. Outside the sub-continent, he averages 31.38 (Australia), 29.20 (England), 15.37 (South Africa) and 40.66 (New Zealand). Taken? Back home, he can be lethal (an average of 79.52) but outside the sub-continent, the Mumbai Indians skipper is a 30-40 batsman. Yes, his leadership skills have been lauded but to elevate him as captain would depend on a lot of factors.
Well, this is all hypothetical and only time would tell what the future holds. But in the larger interest of Indian cricket, Virat has to get going. The Delhi lad, also the most successful Test skipper among Indians is too precious to be gasping for runs. Technically, he enters the cricketing manual with aplomb, but in England, he needs to show a bit of patience and see the ball till the end, he would know the best though.
Pressure is a given at the highest level, but the one who conquers it emerges the champion. Forget his personal milestones, India need runs from his willow if the wishes of billions of cricket fans are to be a reality. And Root’s boys know how crucial Virat’s wicket is. To expect the likes of Jadejas and Pants to bail you out every time would tantamount to building castles in the air.
Before we wind up, we know how Virat put aside the bereavement of his father’s demise to take his Ranji side through years back. A man with a mind of steel, he would despise himself succumbing to his enemies both on and off the ground. But Cheeku as he is fondly Nicknamed, has to find his nick back, if not for himself but for his team.
Mumbaikars wait on, the best is still on its way. Write him off at your own peril!