Virat Kohli blames ill luck
After India's worst day of Test cricket in recent memory, Virat Kohli, who top-scored with 44, had the look of a man wronged by the world. There was a point when he seemed like he actually had a lump in his throat, there was a point when he was angry, there was a point when he gave the Australian bowlers credit, there was a point when he blamed poor luck.
Most noteworthy was when he revealed the kind of pressure he has been under, trying to keep his place in the side. "I don't know why people were after me even after the first game," Kohli said. "I had scored two fifties before that in the match against West Indies [in Mumbai], and suddenly I was on the verge of being dropped after one match.
"Scoring eight hundreds in one-day internationals can't be a fluke. It's international cricket as well. I don't know why people have been questioning my technique or temperament so much. I have been playing at No. 3 in one-dayers, and I have not gone in to bat in very good situations in all of the 70 [odd] matches I have played. All of this is a learning curve for me. I am playing on difficult wickets, in Australia.
"As much as I have learned, I have just played six matches before this, and as much as I can learn and adapt to these situations it will be better for me in the future. This is not the end of the world, this is not the last series that is ever going to be played. I have still got to be positive. I have still got to keep working hard and not think about if I am going to get dropped or if someone else is going to play in my place. I really have no control over that. I can only go out and bat. That's all I am going to do."
Kohli went out and batted today. He got off to a good start too. He admitted he had better batting conditions than those who batted in the top order. Minutes before tea, though, he played a loose stroke, trying to drive length delivery uppishly. "I said this in Mumbai as well," he said. "I was questioned why I played that shot in the first innings [there]. Cricket always has a thin line between a mistake and pulling off really good shots. Those kind of deliveries, you need to hit for boundaries in international cricket. The way they were bowling, they weren't giving much. And you need to convert those loose balls into boundaries. Unfortunately I tried to go for one, I couldn't execute it properly."
That, though, has been the story of the tour. "From what I see, we have lost wickets at important stages of the match," Kohli said. "Even today we had an 80-run [68-run] partnership, and then we lost two wickets before tea. Those sort of balls you need to put away for boundaries if you want to score runs. You just can't go into a shell.
"The Australians came out and played their shots as well. Sometimes they [the shots] fly into gaps, sometimes they don't. Luck is a very important thing in cricket, which unfortunately hasn't been going our way in important phases. Just before breaks, after breaks, just before lunch, just before tea … we have lost important wickets at important times in matches. Just when we are about to convert that 80-run partnership into a 150-run one, we lose a wicket. That's all that has been happening. I don't think anyone has a lack of temperament or technique. Just that things haven't been going our way recently."
Kohli was asked if that actually might have more to do with the team not being mentally as strong as is ideal. He said: "I don't think we are not mentally competing with them," he said. "We haven't done well during those important phases in Australia. It's all about holding your temperament during those important phases, and pulling through, which unfortunately we haven't been able to do. Some do it well, some don't. That's the way the game of cricket goes. So when it goes our way we will make sure we take advantage of it. The game has four days to go. Anything can happen in cricket. They might lose wickets in a cluster. You never know what happens in cricket. It's a funny game."
Asked if this was the worst day of international cricket he had been part of when playing for India, Kohli, incredibly, said it wasn't. "I don't think so," he said. "We have had days when we have fielded longer than this. It's just one day. We still have four days left. I don't rate this as the worst day of Test cricket I have experienced."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo