Sri Lanka in India

What the Indian fan really wants: A true test of Virat Kohli’s genius

The Indian skipper’s purple patch is being wasted on Sri Lanka, West Indies and an extended home season.

We could talk about Virat Kohli’s 20th Test century or his march to 5000 Test runs (the fourth fastest Indian to reach the landmark) or how he has become the first captain to score three centuries in a 3-match series.

We could talk about how invincible he has looked or how a century – nay, double century – seems inevitable each time he walks out in the middle.

We could talk about his sixth double century in 17 months – unprecedented for a Test captain in the history of the game.

Or... we could talk about the lack of a challenge – obvious or otherwise.

At close of play on Day 1 of the Delhi Test against Sri Lanka, Kohli was batting on 156 as India racked up 371 runs for the loss of four wickets. When play started on the second day, he continued from where he left off, racking up 87 more runs, making his career-best. It seemed as if the only challenge to him was his own body and 300 seemed a foregone conclusion before the pollution drama unfolded.

Yes, the Indian skipper has looked so good over the last two years that one can’t wait for him to face up against the best bowlers of the world in alien conditions. Over the last two years, Kohli has played 23 Tests – 16 at home and 7 away. Of those seven, three were against Sri Lanka and four against the West Indies.

Basically put, no South Africa, no England, no Australia or even New Zealand. India dominating at home is not a given, but it is expected just as Kohli scoring the big runs is.

And as Kohli said recently, “you don’t want the fans going away from the game.”

Frankly, the cricket fan would love to see him battle against the best. Sunil Gavaskar made his reputation by battling against a West Indies attack that was dominating world cricket. Even now, we speak of those names with awe – Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner Malcolm Marshall and more. Sachin Tendulkar battled Wasim Akram, Allan Donald, Glenn McGrath, Waqar Younis, Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan and more. They played them at home and away. They fought the conditions. They fought the crowd. And then, their legend emerged.

Kohli, on the other hand, for no fault of his, has almost never been put in the same position. He may not let on but this must get boring. It has to.

He pushes himself to get better but there is almost no one who pushes back.

Frankly, the cricket fan would love better scheduling. Kohli has been playing Test cricket for a while. He made his debut in 2011. He has played 32 home Tests (23 in the last 2 years alone) and 31 away Tests. But of those 31 away Tests, 14 were against West Indies, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

So when they say that the next 18 months are going to tell you how good Kohli really is, they aren’t joking. Surely, the scheduling committee of the BCCI needs to look at eliminating such long periods of cricket played solely at home. It doesn’t make for good viewing and it certainly can work against the Indian team. The players lose touch of how to play in alien conditions against tough oppositions and that hurts us when they finally do make the trip.

Fans would have also liked to see better utilisation of Kohli’s purple patch. Such a run of form is rare. Form and fitness can be fickle – we have even seen that with the likes of Novak Djokovic – so it is a shame that Kohli’s prime is potentially being ‘wasted’ at home. If he can continue this run, great. But if he can’t, fans will wistfully look back at this period and wonder ‘what if...’

Frankly put, the cricket fan would like some bowlers getting stuck into Kohli. The Indian skipper loves a challenge, he won’t back down and that is precisely why when he runs into a tough competitor, it makes for compelling viewing. And that is why he still rates his 141 in Adelaide as his best innings – he was up against a fiery Aussie attack.

But while Gavaskar and Tendulkar had their rivalries, Kohli has no one. Among this generation of quicks, only Kagiso Rabada, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Trent Boult stand out and Kohli hasn’t played them enough in their home conditions. When he does, they must not let him have it his way. Make it a little fun, for us, if not for Kohli.

But most of all, the cricket fan hopes that after the drudgery of the Sri Lanka series, South Africa lives up to expectations and finally gives Kohli the challenge that he and we deserve. It could be the start of a new legend and perhaps a more deserving one too.

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