Virat Kohli leads his men into a five Test series in England this month and the onus is on him to prove his greatness. The India captain will be up against two of the world’s canniest bowlers in James Anderson and Stuart Broad and he must step up. Last time he toured England was in 2014, when Anderson embarrassed him on a regular basis and India slumped to defeat under MS Dhoni. A lot has changed in the last four years as Kohli has established himself as cricket’s greatest star, and it is time for him to exercise those demons.
He began to enjoy a vast upsurge in ODIs after overhauling his diet and training regime in 2012. That relentless focus turned him into a machine, capable of dominating bowlers and pulling off match winning innings after match winning innings. But by the time 2014 rolled around, Anderson exposed Kohli’s weaknesses in brutal fashion. He was somewhat predisposed to planting his front foot way ahead and playing at balls away from his body, and this served him well in white ball cricket. But with the swinging red ball, Anderson bamboozled him, picking holes in his footwork and punishing his reckless nature.
Kohli ended the series with a paltry average of just 13 runs. In 10 innings, his highest score was 13. He was removed edging the ball to wicketkeeper or slips on seven different occasions, four of them at the hands of Anderson. After India’s crushing defeat, Kohli was labelled a white ball player only. Much has changed since that failure, but it remains a substantial blot on his otherwise impeccable copybook. Now the Indian captain has the opportunity to avenge that defeat and lead his team to glorious victory against a struggling England team.
If he pulls it off, he will overtake Australia’s Steve Smith as the world’s top-ranked batsman and confirm India’s status as the number one Test team. Yet if you read reviews of sportsbooks and find the best odds available you will see that India are clear underdogs in this series. That is strange as England have lost eight of their last nine tests and their focus is clearly on white ball cricket. They have struggled to cobble together a top six and they have underwhelmed for a long time.
Yet in Anderson they still possess one of the world’s finest bowlers, and Broad can be extremely dangerous too. It will be crucial for England to always have one of them on the field when Kohli is batting. If they can remove India’s openers early and attack Kohli quickly, they might have a chance of keeping the score down and allowing the likes of Joe Root and Jos Buttler to fire the hosts to victory.
However, conditions could well play into India’s hands. England is amid its driest, hottest summer since records began and prolonged sun and heat is forecast going forwards. This series runs until September 11 and these conditions will suit India far better than England. The visitors are well accustomed to heat and dry, dusty pitches, and they can thrive in England this summer. If there is sideways movement off the pitch, it could help Anderson and co trouble Kohli, as swing may not be enough. If they can keep his averages at around the 30 mark, by getting at him within the first 20 overs, they could win this series and begin the rebuilding process. But if India’s openers remain disciplined and Kohli’s averages stand at around 50, the visitors should secure victory. Then there would be absolutely no doubting Kohli’s greatness.