Virat Kohli Needs To Hit 'Refresh', Not Rest
Virat Kohli needs to hit the reset button and possibly explore a stint with a county team to get back to the basics.
If you want to find out who the most talked-about Indian cricket batter of any particular era was, all you need to do is track the obsession with his hundreds.
In 1983, the whole of India kept asking Sunil Gavaskar when he would surpass Sir Don Bradman’s then world record of 29 Test centuries. This is despite the fact that an underdog India had turned the tables on a fancied West Indies in the 1983 World Cup; the focus remained on Gavaskar for a long while. When he finally got there, the speculation ended.
From the end of 2010 till early 2012, Indian fans became wedded to the fact that Sachin Tendulkar would score his 100th international hundred. He got close a few times, and in the meantime, India even won the World Cup in 2011, but the question remained: when will Tendulkar score his 100th?
The fact that India lost two away Test series in England and Australia 0-8 did not seem to bother any of us. In fact, even when Tendulkar finally reached his 100th hundred landmark, India still lost that very match to host Bangladesh despite putting up a massive score. But as Sachin had reached the landmark, the result almost seemed secondary.
Gavaskar and Tendulkar were the best batters of their respective eras, despite the presence of many other superlative willow-wielders during their time.
And Then, There Is Virat
Cut to 2022 and the current obsession is all about when the present-day superstar Virat Kohli will get to a hundred in any contest. It has now been a total of 100 games across ODIs, Tests, T20Is, and IPL that Kohli has not reached the three-figure mark.
His last century was in November 2019 against Bangladesh in a Test match.
Since then, we have had a long COVID-19 break in 2020, three major Test tours to Australia, England, and South Africa, and a T20 World Cup. Apart from those, India has hosted England, New Zealand, West Indies, and Sri Lanka at home. So the drought has been a long-drawn one with enough opportunities to add to the tally.
It has now got to the point where his friends and well-wishers have started getting worried about his form. He is scoring runs, but not converting them into big scores (read hundreds), which has his legion of fans worried. Multiple experts have come up with multiple theories about Kohli’s lack of hundreds. He has looked tentative at times when he plays spin, and at other times, the umpires have been unfair to him. Sometimes, his luck just deserts him. Basically, everything that can go wrong has gone wrong for Kohli.
Add to that his captaincy drama, his tussle with BCCI president Sourav Ganguly, and every other move that he has made. This has meant that the attention has been squarely on Kohli all the time.
Time for (Another) Break?
Former India head coach and former captain Ravi Shastri has now called for Kohli to take a break from the game. Then there is Kohli’s good mate and former England captain Kevin Pietersen who has said that he needs to go away from the game for six months!
Both Shastri and Pietersen basically are blaming the bio-secure bubbles for the growing dry phase for Kohli with the bat. But the fact is that Kohli has had a lot of breaks already.
Just take a look:
2020: COVID-enforced break from March 2020 to September 2020
2020-21: Paternity break during Australia tour
2020-21: IPL 2021 ended a month early because of COVID
2021: After the World Test Championship there was a three-week break in England
2021-22: After T20 World Cup, Kohli missed the T20I series against New Zealand and the first Test at home
2021-22: On South Africa tour, he missed the second Test owing to a back injury
2021-22: He missed the last T20I against the West Indies and the entire T20I series against Sri Lanka
So, all this talk about him taking a break is all a bit rich, because he has already had a lot of breaks in the last two years – some forced and some unforced.
Needs Time Away From Spotlight
What Kohli ideally needs is some game time away from the focus of the world. He needs some time to work on his game, basically to reset his game for a bit. That can only happen if he misses some of the many white ball bilateral series that India has lined up till the Asia Cup and T20 World Cup. He can very well afford to miss all of them. The only match of any context is the Test match against England, which is a continuation of last year’s tour.
In an ideal scenario, Kohli needs to go to England, play red ball cricket in the county circuit, and get some valuable game time. This will help him immensely. Kohli can easily miss the T20I series against South Africa and Ireland in June 2022 to play some county cricket. That will be the best time for him to get some time to address some of the issues that he has been facing.
Constant exposure to white ball cricket is not helping him get back his mojo in any way because he keep committing the mistakes. Kohli needs time at the crease, which can only come from playing red ball cricket, away from all the limelight.
It is quite possible that if he joins a county side the entire media corps will turn up at the small grounds in England, but it still won’t be the same scrutiny. Unfortunately, for Kohli, the majority of red ball games on the county circuit happen in April and May, or at the fag end of the English season in September. Cheteshwar Pujara has grabbed the opportunity because he went unsold in the IPL, a Kohli cannot have that chance ever!
County Stint Instead of National Duty?
When Kohli announced that he would play for Surrey in 2018 before an England tour then, there was a lot of interest. But an injury put paid to those conversations. Now, the time is ripe for Kohli to bite the bullet and attempt another stint with a county side.
He is no longer India’s all-format captain, which gives him enough opportunity to miss the upcoming white ball series. Look at all the series lined up:
5 T20Is v South Africa at home
3 T20Is and 3 ODIs, 1 Test v England (away)
West Indies tour
Home series v South Africa and Australia
T20 World Cup
Apart from the Test and T20 World Cup, there is nothing of any real significance or context. Nothing that can't be sacrificed keeping a larger picture in mind.
Of course, he may storm back to form in the last part of the IPL and look back at all of us offering him suggestions with a smirk. But even if he does strike big runs, Kohli deserves time at the crease but in whites, not against the white ball.
If there was an India A tour, it would have been the perfect recipe for Kohli to go away with some young hopefuls and share his wisdom while scoring some runs. But sadly, there is no India A tour on the anvil, which means the only opportunity to play any decent level of cricket is on the county circuit.
When he does come back refreshed with runs behind him, hopefully, he can put his foot down and open at the T20 World Cup. That is Kohli’s best position in a T20 format for any team he plays for.
But that is a different debate and a whole different topic of discussion for another day. For now, Mr Kohli, please listen to your well-wishers and take a break – not to rest but to refresh your game.
It is, of course, your call at the end of the day.
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