CHENNAI: Worldly-wise sportsmen in distress often speak of cleansing one’s mind to regain their wonted touch, when the mind is like a clean slate, wiped off doubts and fears, receptive and sensitive to the fullest. Lesser sportsmen, though, would vouch that such a state is unattainable, humanly prone as they are to brooding over their follies. They are the fatalists.
At the moment, Virat Kohli seems to traverse the latter phase, wherein he is daunted and sometimes hounded by the repetitive mistakes of his recent past. Suddenly Kohli, whose chutzpah usually borders on arrogance, seems a man bereft of self-belief and beset with distrust.
His latest dismissal, a tenuous prod with stiff wrists to off-spinner Moeen Ali that ended in an edge to the keeper, fully indicated his troubled mindset. A more confident Kohli would have met the ball fuller, with a straighter blade and softer hands. A disdainful Kohli would have crunched it anywhere in the semicircle between mid-wicket and extra-cover.
But this is what a few failures can provoke. They drain your confidence and strangle your imagination. Suddenly you are a one-dimensional player, a clever bait away from another failure. “This can happen to any player, even the established ones go through it. The key is to resort to your natural methods and keep working hard at the nets,” reckoned former wicketkeeper Kiran More.
Worrying, though, has been the pattern of his dismissals. Apart from the second innings in Trent Bridge, he perished to deliveries outside off-stump. On four occasions, he was caught by the keeper or the slipsmen, and once he woefully misjudged the swing of Liam Plunkett to be castled for a first-ball duck in the second innings at Lord’s.
Some fault it to his slightly open-chested stance, not ideal when the ball is swinging, though beneficial on bouncy tracks. “Side-on batsmen have a better view of the ball pitched outside off-stump. So they can judge the ball, especially when it swings, better. But Kohli has scored centuries in swinging conditions in South Africa and New Zealand. He has a sound technique. So, I don’t think this is a huge issue. And it’s not as if only side-on batsmen survive in England,” remarked former Test opener Chetan Chauhan.
There are so many examples of open-chested batsmen, most famously Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who averages 66.61 in England. Javed Miandad was another who advertised this stance, and he averaged 46 in 16 Tests including a defiant 260 at The Oval. “It’s not just in the technique but also in the mind. If your mind is clear and the approach positive, you will eventually score runs,” Chauhan stated.
If being side-on is the sole assurance for success in England, Cheteshwar Pujara would have expanded each of his five starts in this series. “Don’t worry about him. He has looked composed. Sometimes, good balls get you. You have to accept that,” said former batsman Pravin Amre.
Thrice has Pujara, equipped with a supposedly foolproof technique, faced more than 100 balls, and on every instance, looked destined for a big one. “He just needs to carry on what he is doing now. He has the technique and temperament and he has proved himself in various conditions,” Amre said.
To rev up, both can resort to the footage of the Johannesburg Test late last year, and see for themselves the way they mastered the deadliest of all contemporary bowlers, Dale Steyn. Seldom in their still-nascent career have they been so clear-headed, they would approve.