India vs England, 1st Test: Can Virat Kohli the batsman blossom again in English summer?

After all, England is not the country you would want to play Test matches while going through a modest period as batsman. James Anderson and Stuart Broad are not the kind of bowlers you would want to face when the runs are coming in a trickle.

But that’s what Kohli will have to do, starting from Trent Bridge. So, what has led him to this marshy land? Once he blossomed in the Test arena with a hundred at Adelaide in 2012, Kohli has been India’s batting vanguard. Few batsmen have scored runs with as much hunger as Kohli in the last decade, and he scored them everywhere too. But that dominant Kohli has been absent in the last 10 innings, in which he has gone without a hundred.

His last three figure knock came against Bangladesh when he made his highest score in Test cricket, an unbeaten 254 in 2019. In season 2020-21, Kohli played five Tests (8 innings) and made 250 runs at 31.25 with a highest of 74 and in the WTC Final against New Zealand, his only Test so far in 2021, at Southampton the Indian captain made 44 and 13. Of course, he missed three Tests against Australia in this period to be with his wife for the birth of their first child.

The phase of struggle, perhaps, would remind him of his travails against England in 2014. James Anderson tormented him outside the off-stump and all Kohli could manage was a meagre 134 runs from 5 Tests at 13.40 with a highest of 39. Many other batsmen would have been left with lasting mental scars but not Kohli.

He slayed the dragon four years later. In 5 Tests, Kohli, now the all-format Indian captain, made an astounding 593 runs in 10 innings at 59.30 with 2 hundreds and 3 fifties. After that tremendous run, Kohli went through a productive phase as Test batsman in two subsequent seasons averaging 51.77 in 6 Tests and 61.37 in 7 Tests. He was the undisputed No 1 Test batsman in the world before hitting a trough.

So, is he worried about the lack of runs? “I have never really played for any landmarks or milestones in my career. This is again…every game of international cricket has been an opportunity for me to test my character and how strong I am. Things are going to be no different in this series as well, we are going to play with the same passion and commitment and the same belief we play every series. In my opinion, some series matter more than others,” said Kohli in the virtual press meet on Tuesday (August 3).

In this interim, India has had several batting heroes – Rishabh Pant, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, R Ashwin and more unlikely names such as Shardul Thakur and Washington Sundar. He has been overtaken in ICC Test and ODI rankings by his contemporaries – Steve Smith and Babar Azam.

Yes, Kohli might not mind a personally diffident series if India can win the series in England, something they last achieved in 2007 under Rahul Dravid. But he is a proud competitor who wants to have his stamp on India’s victory.

“You can have all the experience in the world but it all boils down to execution, as long as we embrace that, we will find the answers to every question that is being thrown at us,” Kohli said.

Three years back, Kohli had found answers to some tough questions. Can he do an encore and start a fresh journey?

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