Virat Kohli has plundered Test runs in virtually every corner of the cricket world but England is a scoring desert for India’s superstar captain ahead of a tricky five-match series.

He returned from his first England series in 2014 with just 134 runs from five Tests, unable to counter swing bowlers. India, with Mahendra Singh Dhoni as captain, lost the series 3-1.

The 29-year-old Kohli is now back in England as reigning International Cricket Council player of the year and the world’s leading batsman with an average of over 53 in 66 Tests.

He has hit 301 runs in six limited-overs matches on the tour. India won the Twenty20 series and lost the one-day internationals, but Kohli knows that his Test performance – starting in Edgbaston on Wednesday – will be the benchmark of success.

Coach Ravi Shastri responded in his typical belligerent style when asked how Kohli has changed since that last tour.

“Look at his record. I don’t have to spell out what he has done in the last four years. When you perform in that fashion, you are mentally at a different level as well. You are waiting for whatever test comes your way. Yes, he might have had an ordinary series when he came here four years ago. But four years down the line he is the best player in the world. And he would like to get out there and show the British public why he is the best player in the world,” Shastri told ESPNCricinfo.

Former India skipper Mohammad Azharuddin said Kohli is a completely different batsman from the last tour and an exemplary leader of the top-ranked Test side in the world.

“At that time, it was his first tour... now he has got so many runs behind him and I think will perform wonderfully well,” Azharuddin told AFP.

“He has led India in so many Test matches so I don’t think he will have any pressure now as far as leadership is concerned.”

Kohli struggled against seam bowlers in 2014 with England paceman James Anderson dismissing the right-handed batsman four times in the series.

‘Singularly focused’

The Indian skipper has insisted he is not concerned about his personal performances against England, hitting out at critics for putting the spotlight on his 2014 failure.

His form has been noticed in the England camp, however. Anderson said the Indian captain was “telling lies” by saying his own runs do not matter.

“It doesn’t matter if he gets runs or not? I think he is telling lies there,” Anderson had said in jest when asked about Kohli’s statement that his personal form doesn’t matter. “For India to win here, of course it matters. Virat will be desperate to score runs for his team, as you would expect from the captain and one of the best players in the world,” he added.

“Today, cricketers learn from not only watching match footage but also from past experiences. So I would expect a batsman of Kohli’s quality to have learnt from that last series here (in 2014). I am sure he (Kohli) is practising hard at certain aspects of his game and that will make the battle between him and not just myself, but him and the rest of our bowlers, a really exciting one.”

Azharuddin backed Kohli’s view that the team’s performance is more important.

“Cricket is not a game of one individual. It doesn’t work like that. Everybody has to score runs one person can’t win you a game,” said the cricketer-turned-politician.

“If the ball is seaming, batsmen in both teams will struggle. But having said that, India have a great chance of winning in England this time.”

Former greats weigh in

Former Australian cricketer Michael Hussey backed Kohli to do well in the series, saying “The experience of last tour should help Virat. It’s unfortunate that he couldn’t play for Surrey due to an injury. He will be determined to do well this time. If he gets his confidence up and spends some time in the middle, he will be hard to stop.”

Another Australian great, Glenn McGrath said it was time the India captain scored in England.

“For Virat, he has done everywhere else, but in England... He is a quality player without a doubt, a class act, has got all the shots. He is quite aggressive and not a timid player. It is time he shows that he can score runs in English conditions too. It is a little bit tougher with the ball moving around. Australia used to be quick, bouncy whereas in England it is seam movement. If he can adapt and adjust to the conditions, he can score. When he is playing well he is as good as anyone going around.”  

— - Glenn Mcgrath

Former England captain Graham Gooch fired a warning for England.

“He (Kohli) is a top-ranked player in the world at the moment and I think a dangerous customer for England as he has the motivation to improve his record in this country. Every player wants to be known to be able to play well in all sorts of conditions.”

A discussion on Kohli led to the inevitable comparison with his English counterpart Joe Root. According to Gooch, what sets the duo apart from the most of their peers is their ability to play match-winning knocks under any circumstances.

“Well, they are both world class players across formats of the game. They are both match-winning players. I love watching Virat Kohli and Joe Root bat. They both play all round the wicket and they are both positive, very focussed and I like to see that. And I think one thing that people should remember what sets them apart in the modern era – people who watch shouldn’t remember how many runs they score or what innings they played. But (they should remember) when Virat Kohli or Joe Root played an innings, that helped them win the match for their team. That’s what counts. Not the number of runs.”  

— Graham Gooch

Pakistan great Zaheer Abbas also chipped in with his views on the Indian captain.

“More than anybody else, Kohli would himself be determined to significantly improve what he averaged (13.40) back in 2014. Since then, Kohli has come to be ranked among the world’s very best and his performance four years ago has to be treated as an aberration,” Abbas told the Telegraph.

And finally, Sachin Tendulkar – the man who Kohli reached out to after that 2014 tour to turn things around – was expectedly defiant about the Indian captain and the team’s chances.

“Virat’s 2014 performance has got nothing to do with how he would perform in the upcoming series. And it’s not just about Virat’s performance. If you ask me if I am hopeful of a good show from Virat, my answer would be “Why only Virat? I am hopeful of a good show from the Indian team. It’s the team that needs to perform well,” Tendulkar said.

(With PTI and AFP inputs)