These are slightly different times in Virat Kohli’s captaincy career. Not before in his tenure as the leader of the Indian Test team has a transcript of his press conference containing nine references of the word “mistakes” and eight more involving a combination of the words “correct” and “rectify”. Less than a month ago, he’d spoken about “immense possibilities” and “history.”
The good part is Kohli is neither the first international captain, or is going to be the last, to be served such a generous dose of reality check after riding a high wave for a considerable period of time.
That Kohli’s No.1 Test side arrived in South Africa with some of the biggest hype ever was down to their bowling abilities. The attack, despite being subject to selection oddities, has held its end of the bargain with 40 wickets from two Tests. It’s their supposed stronger suit of batting which has let the team down. Besides Kohli and Hardik Pandya (boosted by a 93 in Cape Town), no Indian batsman has aggregated 100 runs in the two games. This is in shock contrast to the huge show of promise when each of Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane showed when they scored 272, 280 and 209 respectively in the two-match series in 2013-14.
Now as India embark on a “character building” exercise, they can hardly have asked for a better start than on the proverbial ‘green mamba’ rolled out at the Wanderers. If they can uphold their strong record here (one win, three draws), it’ll go a small way towards reinforcing their beliefs ahead of the summer’s challenge in England.
To do that, India will have to weed out silly errors from their batting game. There will be no place for loose shots or mindless running between wickets in this rescue mission. Kohli admitted that every member of the team was apprised of his responsibilities. “Although it’s a team game, each individual is doing his own time at any given time. I think you have to realise that to rectify that aspect of your game. Like I said, the individuals have reflected on those things, and when a similar situation arrives, make sure you don’t repeat the same mistake. That’s when you know you have made progress,” Kohli said.
“Sanjay Bangar is there, the batting coach, and he is assisting us with all our batting requirements for so long. Everyone has been spoken to individually; the discussions have happened as to what went wrong, what happened, why it happened and the guys have taken it well. It’s never a bad time to start anything, that’s what I believe in and, as I said, batsmen are looking to rectify their mistakes that happened in the first two games. Because it’s a chance for everyone to step up in times that have not gone our way and to change things around for us. That will build characters, that will build individuals and that will build personalities. That can be a milestone for guys going forward if they can step up in this game and be the difference for us in this Test match.”
Another of India’s bug bears on the tour, the catching, now seem pronounced because they can’t rely on R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja to fashion chance after chance like they do in the subcontinent. In the two Tests thus far, India have put down eight straightforward catches, seven of them coming in Centurion. South Africa have been guilty of the occasional lapse themselves – Keshav Maharaj in Cape Town and Hashim Amla in Centurion – but Kohli conceded that the hosts had been far better on a whole.
“Look fielding is obviously a big factor. They have fielded better than us and it’s visible and not a question of having numbers attached to it. That is something we definitely need to step up because fielding I feel is a bit of a controllable on the field. It depends on an individual’s attitude. Batting I would still say, there’s always a bowler involved who has his skills as well and same for a bowler up against a batsman.
“From the batting point of view, it’s just a mindset of wanting to make a difference for the team every ball that you are standing on the park. Definitely these two things we have to take into consideration going into this Test match.”
Depending on how he wishes to look at it, the Wanderers Test will also see the scope of Kohli’s responsibility widen within the team. He started as a pure batsman and was elevated to captaincy. A great home run followed before this blip. Now man-management roles will assume as much significance as his run making. Presence or absence of players will have greater bearing on results than they did in the sub-continent. It’s a challenge he is willing to front.
“Sometimes when the team is playing so beautifully, you don’t need to do anything you feel so relaxed. So even this is a part of it. I have to take it in my stride and go forward. And not sit here and say ‘this is a lot of burden’ That’s not the right attitude. I’m willing to go through any kind of phase, I have gone through bad phases in my career. Ups and downs are a part of a sportsman’s career and I understand that.
“Every game you play you have to start fresh and not think about what happened in the past. And that goes for bowlers, batsmen and as a team. We are going to treat this Test as an individual Test match that we need to come out and play our best cricket and try to be in the same positions we were in the first two Tests and try to consolidate on it and actually close the game.”