Virat Kohli (Reuters Photo)NEW DELHI: India's talismanic batsman Virat Kohli hasn't been among big runs for nearly three years now. Fans are eagerly waiting for him to take off his helmet, stretch his arms, and roar to celebrate a century. Kohli, who is going through a rough phase, going by his own lofty standards with the bat, last scored an international century way back in November 2019.
A comeback knock was expected from Kohli in the fifth Test (rescheduled Test) against England but that didn't happen. He failed to raise his bat once again. He scored just 11 in the first innings and 20 in the second in the crucial Test, which England went on to win to level the Test series at 2-2.
Though his overall career Test average still reads a healthy 49.53, his average in the last year has been below 30. Kohli, in the last one year, has played 10 Tests and batted 18 times. Of these 10 Tests, 3 have been at home and 7 away. He has scored 527 runs in these 18 innings, at an average of 29.27. He has hit three fifties in Test cricket in the last one year.
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So what exactly is going wrong for the Indian run machine right now? Why hasn't stepping down from captaincy improved his game ? Who should he turn to for advice ? What do his performances so far on India's current tour of England tell us ?
Former England spinner Monty Panesar feels Kohli should speak to batting legend Sachin Tendulkar and former star all-rounder Yuvraj Singh to find his lost mojo.
TimesofIndia.com caught up with Panesar, who played 50 Tests, 26 ODIs, and 1 T20I for England between 2006 and 2013, for an exclusive interview and spoke to him about Kohli's poor run with the bat, his T20 World Cup future, and much more…
Virat Kohli has not really been among the big runs for a while now. The chorus of voices criticising him is growing louder by the day…
The difficulty here is that he is the most marketable cricketer in the world. He is probably the one who entered that space after Sachin Tendulkar. So, from a financial perspective, of course, everybody just wants to watch your Virat Kohli bat or see him on the field. Fans love him a lot. We all just love Virat and his intensity. Sometimes, it's borderline but he's very much admired in England. So, from the BCCI's perspective, they've got to sit down and decide. When Virat Kohli plays, stadiums are full of sponsors.
From a financial perspective, other boards gained so much from Virat Kohli. But is Virat really good for the India side right now? That's the biggest question that the BCCI needs to sit down with the selectors and work out – that when it comes to the big tournaments, like T20 World Cup or (ODI) World Cup, from a sponsorship perspective, they probably make more money. But then would it mean at the expense of them not winning a T20 World Cup or a 50-over World Cup? That's the biggest question at the moment. This is going to be very difficult for the likes of coach Rahul Dravid and captain Rohit Sharma.
Should Kohli be dropped and allowed the time and space to find his rhythm again in domestic cricket etc? Which side of the debate are you on?
It's like Cristiano Ronaldo. Whenever Ronaldo plays for Manchester United, everyone's watching the football. Whenever Tiger Woods is involved in any tournament, we all want to watch him. It doesn't matter if he's going to win or not. Virat Kohli is the same. He has got a huge following and attraction. I don't know what the financial implications are.
Are BCCI under pressure too, regardless of whatever the result and role Virat Kohli has to play, to keep the sponsors happy? That's probably the biggest question. They can't drop him or afford to drop him because they'll probably lose huge financial sponsorship.
As younger players keep performing when given chances, how highly would you rate Kohli's chances of being included in the T20 World Cup squad, as things stand right now?
Virat should be in the squad. He should be traveling to Australia because you need Virat in the big global tournaments. He's an ambassador of the game. So, you need him there. Whether he is playing or not playing, he should be there as a squad member. He needs to have a chat with Dravid. He should ask whether he would fit in the top 11 or he should be there as a squad member. His experience being there can just actually give that confidence to the youngsters who play.
Virat can play the role of MS Dhoni. He can be a guiding force for the youngsters. Virat does bring so many other elements to the side. He didn't have a good time in the last few months. Be it captaincy or anything. Virat and BCCI need to just sort this (out) completely. Rohit and Dravid are making plans to win the World Cup.
Dravid and Rohit desperately want to win the World Cup. They want to play big roles and take the team to World Cup wins. This is something Virat couldn't (do). They have only three months to go. They've got to think with their heads right. Is Virat Kohli part of our eleven or is he part of our 15? They need to decide that very, very quickly. There are a lot of youngsters who can adapt to the conditions in India, but in Australia, you will definitely need Virat Kohli for the T20 World Cup.
What impact do you think his decision to give up captaincy roles have on his batting?
Watching his behavior and everything in England, I asked myself is that really the Virat Kohli? It was a bit over-exerted. It's not him. It wasn't really him. His celebration and sledging showed that he was under some pressure. It's not the Virat Kohli we know. He has been slightly scarred by some of the trust issues that he had with the BCCI people. How he was treated, and how he spoke in the media about it. Internally, I think, there were obviously differences. Virat was probably let down by that. He still feels a little bit of mental pressure from that.
At one point in time, Kohli breaking Sachin's ODI centuries record seemed inevitable. What's your take on this?
I'm sure there are some cricket fans now who probably already had one or two children by now and Virat hasn't scored a 100 yet (since Nov 2019). It's been that long. You can see the legacy of Tendulkar. You can see how hard it was for him to maintain that. He's played a lot of cricket. He maintained himself really well. On the other hand, Virat scored runs and captained the side in all formats for so long.
Virat now needs to give himself some time. He needs to be properly refreshed. He needs a real deep rest. He needs his mind and body to be healed. He shouldn't have played in the IPL. IPL was a perfect opportunity to go back and rest – mentally and physically. He should have said I am not going to play IPL and instead focus my energy on the World Cup. He is such a big asset to world cricket. (But) he has got so much pressure from the owners, from the board, and the sponsors that he has to play.
How can Kohli regain his lost mojo?
Virat should talk to Sachin. He admires him and respects him. He can have a chat with Yuvraj Singh (also). Virat respects Yuvraj a lot. Virat should speak to Yuvraj and Sachin. These two people can help him. He should come and see me and have a chat and we can maybe go for dinner. He should talk to someone who is completely outside of the game of cricket.
I wouldn't mind having a chat with him. These kinds of things can just help him. Virat needs to work out in his head and be honest with himself. 'Why am I not playing well?' He needs to ask himself that. You can see this in the body language. I don't know if he's got anyone there that he can have that honest conversation (with).
Could Kohli possibly target domestic cricket to regain form? In that case, how easy or difficult will it be for him to regain his position in the team?
He's probably fearful. If he goes back into Ranji Trophy and doesn't perform well, he may have a tough time then. Virat is going through a rough phase. But a player like Virat needs just one innings to regain everything. His main aim is to win the T20 World Cup and then the 50-over World Cup.
Virat will be in the ICC Hall of Fame. He is just one century away from Ricky Ponting (overall across formats). He is in the top 3 in the world. After Sachin and Ponting, Virat is up there. After the T20 World Cup and 50-over World Cup, in India, I won't be surprised he may just retire from all forms.
Kohli announced that he would step down as T20 captain after the last edition of the World Cup and the announcement was made just a month before the World Cup began. Was the timing of the announcement a mistake ?
That was a huge mistake. He disrupted the team balance. There were players in the team who started thinking about themselves being the next captain. There was a big distraction that didn't help the Indian team. After the tournament, whatever the result was, then he should have said – I am quitting as captain. His step upset the BCCI. You just can't do that ahead of a big global tournament. Distraction was the main reason for India's loss in the tournament. I don't think it was a sensible option.
'You can't just go by reputation' – Kapil Dev has questioned Kohli's place in the T20 side. What's your take on that?
It's a great question. Virat's intensity and aggression sometimes destabilise batsmen, (but) against England, Australia, or New Zealand – They're not afraid of him. The opponents feel that he is just a cricketer throwing toys out of his pram. Whatever he was two or three years ago, is forgotten.
At present, he is a guy who is struggling for form, plays a few good shots but then just gets out. He's not that same player. Cricket fans around the world always think of him as – 'Oh yeah, that's Virat Kohi, an intense cricketer, with unbelievable shots', and everything like that. But it's been a while for him since he's played that sort of style of cricket. His strength is his brand. Whether he scores runs, he doesn't score runs, all eyes will be on him. The Indian team needs him right now.