It could all depend on their talismanic skipper Virat Kohli, who, like all impactful leaders, has moulded this team in his image and forged a tight, combative, resourceful unit.
Yet a time must invariably come when usual formulas, quick tips and natural instincts don’t do the trick. For Kohli, that time is now.
In the cricketing world, it is a given that weight of runs will elevate one to the leadership role. It is only natural, then, that like all great batsmen who are handed the captaincy, Kohli’s chief characteristics – poise, confidence, swagger, resourcefulness, the ability to transfuse his often-uncanny energy into the team in times of crises – remain in equilibrium only as long as he is scoring runs.
And those runs have been hard to come by. It has happened in spite of Kohli not always conforming to the traditional notion of being out of form.
Contrary to his stance after Leeds that the management would not nit-pick on individual performances and focus only as a team, Kohli would no doubt like to return to the drawing board where his batting is concerned, like he did once before in 2014 after technical problems crept into his game in England.
It isn’t easy being Kohli right now because every expert has picked a loophole or two in his technique. Everything from his “shoulder (mis)alignment” to his “back-foot positioning” to his “shot selection standing outside the crease” has been blamed. The incoming ball has troubled Kohli, as has the obsession with getting on to the front foot.
It’s enough to make even a modern batting great’s mind boggle. Also, England’s bowlers, led by the peerless James Anderson, have probed away at his perceived frailties, as England captain Joe Root said on Tuesday.
“A lot of credit has to go to our bowling group because Virat is world class. They’ve been able to keep him quiet. We’ve to continue doing it if we are to win this series. Till now we’ve found ways of getting him out. We’ve got to keep finding ways of building pressure on him,” Root said.
While it is true Kohli has repeatedly got out edging balls in good-length areas in this series, his lack of big runs doesn’t seem to be England specific.
Kohli enjoyed a career-best average of 55.10 after his 81st Test, in which he scored 254 against SA in Oct 2019. Since then, in 14 Tests he has averaged 28.04. Since his last Test ton against Bangladesh at the Eden, he averages 24.68 from 11 Tests.
For a rather busy batsman, his strike rate too has plummeted from 57.63 after 81 Tests to 42.90 in his last 11. He is without a hundred in 19 Test innings.
So it’s very welcome news that Kohli finally broke a rut of eight Test innings to score a half-century in Leeds, even though it wasn’t a completely convincing effort. In that innings, however, may well lie the seed of India’s resurgence in the remaining games.
“Everyone has their own styles and ways of batting,” Root said, and he should know given the kind of form he is in. “The art of cricket is knowing when to play what…to the best of your ability…and repeat that.
There’s no one right way to bat. Can you find a method that’s sustainable?”
It sounds difficult, put that way, but the greats would know. A batsman’s career is as much about lean patches as good form.
The masters will often rely not only on technical inputs but the mind, and it is there that Kohli may find the answers.
For starters, he may have to abandon some of his set notions. Sometimes one has to take a backward step in order to move forward. In Kohli’s case, that may be both literal and figurative.