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Is India's dependence on Kohli simply papering over cracks?
Since his spellbinding 160* on Wednesday, which helped India seal a 3-0 lead in the current series against South Africa, fans and commentators alike have been waxing lyrical over Virat Kohli’s performances showing no sign of slowing down. During the entirety of this tour, including the test series loss, Kohli has scored more than 31% of India’s runs. While this rich vein of form is rightly being celebrated as a cricketer who is updating his peak with every passing match, a paper is being put over possible cracks in the batting lineup. The obvious claim is that India is exhaustively reliant on their inspirational captain, but is this a good thing? Given that there are further stern examinations coming ahead with trips to England and Australia later this year in the longest form of the game, and a World Cup just a year away, the batting department surely needs some changes.
In this current ODI series, only Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan have lived up to their reputation as formidable players in the limited overs format. The enigmatic case of Rohit Sharma on this tour has been strange to say the least, since he has been in such scintillating form from the second half of 2017. Fans’ hope will be that Sharma’s lack of runs is simply one of those puzzles players can sometimes have in certain countries. Rahul Dravid too had a often fruitless battle against the Proteas, so it is definitely not uncommon. The top three of the batting lineup for India are easily the most talented in the world and for that reason, are often so crucial to the total scored by the team. Furthermore, if we look at the test series just gone, again the top order is vital for the team’s chances. Dhawan can count himself unlucky to be discarded after one poor performance, but KL Rahul, Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara need to shoulder the responsibility equally. Especially in overseas conditions, the top order cannot see collapses like it has in this tour to leave the lower order exposed. How is this possible? Rather than shifting the blame all onto the players, a thorough look at the coaching strategy would be a good place to start. Kohli, before all the major tours away from home, he goes to his first coach and even asks questions of the legends on how to succeed in foreign conditions. The rest of the team should also take advantage of this possibility of interacting with former players who have performed in testing conditions. The coaching staff must cooperate in order to make this happen, relying on the skipper is far too burdensome.
In his innings on Wednesday, it was quite evident that Kohli was not at his elegant best. That was due to the situation the game was in when he arrived at the crease. Moreover, the South African bowlers sensed an opportunity to expose the middle order, given that in the series so far, they had not needed to bat for a sustained period of time. After the partnership with Dhawan had ended, wickets fell at regular intervals at the opposite end to Kohli. This was again the case in his other substantial knock on this tour, a spectacular 153 at Centurion. When the skipper is doing his upmost to keep the team’s hopes alive, why can the partner not take cue from that? Even though we outsiders do not know what happens in the closed sanctuary of the dressing room, it is indisputable that Kohli is an athlete that comes along only once in a lifetime. Not only due to his inordinate amount of talent, but also in his relentless drive and ambition sets him apart. It is often said that athletes like these cannot expect their teammates to be able to perform at the same level as them. This was the great burden bestowed upon the shoulders of Sachin Tendulkar all those years ago. However, the players should take a concerted look at the way their leader operates. This can be in training, where he often takes extra time to get in his fitness up or batting in the nets. This could involve his lifestyle, things such as his change in diet by not eating butter chicken anymore or shutting off by 10:30pm on most nights. All these small things hardly look like they will make the difference, but they all add to the overall result.
India has the chance to seal a historic series victory on pink day at the Wanderers tomorrow. But more than that, it would be a huge confidence boost if the batting lineup stood up to be counted alongside Kohli. Then again, Kohli may well grab the headlines with another century to leave us all speechless.