After whitewashing the hosts in the T20 format, Team India were the favourites for the rest of the New Zealand tour. But things only went south for the Men in Blue post that triumph. A 0-3 beating in the ODIs, followed by a 0-2 thrashing in the Test series have left many unanswered questions in front of the Indian Cricket team. The biggest of them all being, what is wrong with the Indian skipper. Virat Kohli's last century in any format came in November 2019 and his last in ODI ton was back in August last year. If we look at his numbers prior to the Test series, the stats do not look that bad. It is just that the stats didn't match the standards that Virat Kohli has set.
However, this Test series was one to forget for the skipper. Amassing just 38 runs in 4 innings at an average below 10 is woeful for any batsman, let alone for someone who is considered to be one of the greatest batsmen of all time. But what went wrong? Is there something wrong with Virat's technique? Have the bowlers finally found a weakness that they can expose regularly? Or was it something else?
In order to understand the gravity of the situation, we must first analyse how Virat got out in all the innings. Was there a pattern? Let us find out.
First innings, First Test | 2 (7) c Ross Taylor b Kyle Jamieson
India had lost the youngster Prithvi Shaw and the reliable Pujara with just 35 on the board on a pretty damp surface after losing the toss. Mayank was looking solid as the debutant Jamieson had dismissed India's number 3 as his first International scalp in Test cricket. The stage was set for a Kohli special. Having faced just 6 balls, Kohli went for the typical Kohli cover drive. But he only managed an edge that flew into the bucket hands of Taylor at first slip, who did a great job by holding on to the pressure catch.
There were two issues with the attempted drive. Firstly, it wasn't a half volley and secondly, the ball was pretty much wide of the stumps. Therefore, Kohli had to play the drive on the up and that too away from the body. Playing such a shot so early in the innings, that too in the damp conditions is a little too much even for a batsman of Kohli's stature. We have seen Kohli nail similar sort of deliveries through covers multiple times prior to this. But it would've been better had Kohli given himself some time to get in, before playing the expensive drives. So, we can say that this dismissal had more to do with the shot selection than anything else. It was a case of Kohli getting himself out rather than the bowler getting his wicket. Such things do happen regularly these days as batsmen play a lot of limited overs cricket.
Second innings, First Test | 19 (43) c BJ Watling b Trent Boult
In the second innings, Kohli came into the middle following the departure of Shaw and Pujara, who misjudged a leave on the final ball of the second session, only to see his off pole disturbed. Kohli joined the confident looking Mayank as the scorecard read 78-2 and the Indian team were still 105 runs behind. The onus was on the two to build up a big partnership and reduce the deficit without further loss. Post the Tea break, Mayank Aggarwal was looking pretty comfortable between the sticks as he completed his half-century. The captain, however, wasn't at his fluent best as he played a few in the air and even edged one past the slip cordon. But, against the run of play, Mayank was strangled down the leg side. Kohli, joined by his deputy Rahane was the key now.
After losing Mayank Agarwa, Kohli had started to look a bit more composed on the field. He was looking pretty confident. This resulted in a bowling change as Boult was brought back into the attack. Just the second ball of his new spell, Boult went short and bowled a sharp bouncer, from around the stumps. Kohli, for some reason, decided to take him on. But unfortunately, it was too quick for the Indian skipper. The ball also bounced a little too much. In the end, all Virat managed was a thin feather through to the wicket-keeper.
So, two innings into our breakdown we can conclude that Virat Kohi has got himself out on both the occasions. The skipper went for the shots that he could've avoided. It was not only the case with Kohli, many Indian batsmen lacked application throughout the series. There was a lack of discipline. The same discipline that had helped Kohli fight his English demons in 2018. He resisted the drive early on in each innings and hardly played anything that wasn't at the stumps. Here Kohli could've done the same and let the deliveries he got out to, go through. Both the dismissals were down to poor shot selection, something that has to be looked into but has nothing to do with the technique. Now let us move forward to the more interesting part.
First Innings, Second Test | 3 (15) lbw Tim Southee
After being outplayed in the Wellington test and having lost another important toss, India needed to post a huge total on the board. So, when Shaw got out after an entertaining 54, the stage was set for Virat Kohli to do what he does best. He started well with a confident looking flick off Jamieson towards mid wicket for 3 runs. Kohli and Pujara then negotiated the next three overs to end the first session at 85-2.
Facing his first ball after the break, Kohli got struck on the pad plumb in front of the stumps. Expecting the ball to move away, Kohli tried to cover for the swing. The ball, however, hit the seam and jagged back a fraction. To make matters worse, Kohli's head fell over and the bat came down at an angle and he missed the ball by some distance. This wasn't the first time Kohli had got out in this manner. Kohli's dismissal in the second innings of the 2018 Capetown test looked somewhat similar.
Southee really bowled a great delivery first up after the break, not offering any freebies. Apart from trying to cover for some out-swing, what went against Virat was that he went a little too hard at the ball. If you look at the replays, he almost went for an attacking flick while a defensive forward push with a straight bat would've been a better option, especially taking into consideration that it was only the first ball he was facing after the break. With a little more defensive approach, Virat might have got a little bat to the ball, but it wasn't to be.
Second Innings, Second Test | 14 (30) Colin de Grandhomme
Trying to build on a lead of just 7 in the first innings, India were 2 down with just 26 on the board, when Kohli came into the middle. Kohli started off pretty well. A big score was due and it looked like Kohli would get it in the very innings. But just when things seemed to be under control, disaster struck as Kohli was trapped in front of the stumps once again. It was a similar kind of delivery.
The ball tended to be shaping away a bit, like most of the stuff from CdG. But the ball hit the seam, nipped in and went past Kohli's forward defensive push. Virat played the right shot this time, learning from the first innings. The problem, however, was that he couldn't rectify the mistake completely. The shot selection was better but the head position wasn't. The head fell over once more as the front foot was planted a little to across. Two similar types of dismissals in a single game, something we don't generally associate with the Indian skipper.
What do we conclude from the dismissals?
Kohli might have had his worst Test series as a batsman, but there is surely not a lot of things he'll be worried about. The first Test was all about poor shot selection. This tends to happen when a batsman is in the middle of a lean phase. In terms of technique, there isn't much to work on. Had that been the case, he wouldn't have scored as many runs as he has all across the globe on a regular basis. But as they say, there is always room for improvement.
It has more to do with mental strength. As Kohli also said after the loss that the Indian batsmen got a little too worried about the conditions. Too much talk about the conditions can result in creeping up of doubts in the mind of the batsmen. It definitely happened with Kohli, especially in the second Test. Going through a bad phase, batting first in unfavourable conditions and losing early wickets were certainly too much to handle even for Kohli. In both the innings, he tried to cover for the swing that wasn't there. Definitely a case of overestimating the conditions.
So what lies next?
India will host South Africa for the next series, who are themselves facing their own problems. It will be a great opportunity for the Men in Blue and Kohli, in particular, to make a statement following an underwhelming performance against the Black Caps. It will be a huge test of mental strength for the Indian skipper and having seen his recent past, Kohli is more likely to come out of this failure stronger than ever before. Remember the Australian summer of 2014-15 after the English summer?
Kohli would definitely want to work on this issue regarding the head position. He is someone who loves to plant that front foot across the stumps as this enables him to get closer to the balls outside off. It also enables Kohli to get a huge stride and nail those cover drives. So one thing he might try is to move a little too across so that even if he is struck on the pad, the impact is outside the line of the stumps. The other thing he may try is to tighten his stance a bit and reduce the back and across movement a bit so that the head doesn't fall over. Having said this, it is all on Kohli to try and figure out what works best for him.