England v India, 1st ODI, Chester-le-Street September 2, 2011

Kohli's learning curve

The one-day series offers India's batsmen a final chance to shine on this tour and one of their youngsters has a key part to play

These days the media asks questions to Virat Kohli as if he is a senior member of the Indian squad. He does behave like one. Kohli's answers are clear, measured and forthright. The best part is Kohli listens, before speaking his mind. He is the same in the nets and on the field. If you see him in training Kohli is constantly egging, encouraging, offering insights to his team-mates. And he is not shy to express himself whether it's to Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, MS Dhoni, Parthiv Patel or any of the coaching staff. Kohli wants to get involved. He enjoys it.

At Chester-le-Street, having finished with his first round of batting in the nets, Kohli stood eagerly waiting for Dravid to finish facing the throwdowns from Trevor Penney, the India fielding coach. Suddenly he realised Parthiv had jumped the queue. "PP, I am going after Rahul bhai," Kohli said confidently and walked into the net. Parthiv, Kohli's senior in terms of experience, just moved aside. Such simple things sometimes do show the hunger within.

Penney started off with a wide. "Wide start, scared of you," he joked with Kohli, who did not respond. He had come into the net with a purpose in mind and he did not want lose the intensity. Penney's job was to make sure the youngster would not get carried away, to make Kohli play the percentage shots instead of going for the broke.

For the initial two overs Kohli's focus remained mainly on whether he was getting his body position correct. But steadily he started to play his strokes. But when Penney bowled short at his body or over his head, Kohli went for the pull off both the front and back foot. At first instance it seemed he did not want to be dictated to.

MS Dhoni, who was to the left of Kohli, batting in the adjacent nets, had been quietly observing his younger team-mate. The fact that Fidel Edwards and Ravi Rampaul had troubled Kohli during his debut Test series in the Caribbean in June had not been lost on Dhoni.

After he finished his batting Dhoni went and stood behind Penney, speaking to the Zimbabwean after every ball for nearly ten minutes. After a few short deliveries, Penney had a quiet word with Kohli, asking him to stay calm and not hit every short ball. "Twenty20 is a different format. In a one-dayer I know I have to play steady and get 15-20 runs before playing such a shot," Kohli replied to Penney, who felt one of Kohli's favourite shots, a pull over midwicket, was loaded with risk.

"You don't play that," Penney said a few balls later, as he walked in hastily towards Kohli before delivering the message in soft yet fatherly tone. Kohli had decided to play forward to a delivery that was seaming away having pitched on length on the off stump. It was a similar sort of delivery Rampaul had bowled him in his debut Test innings at Kingston which Kohli had gone chasing, ending up only edging to the wicketkeeper. "I had done this once," Kohli said.

Dhoni stood there at a distance, seemingly unperturbed. He was joined by Tendulkar. Suddenly Kohli was under the scanner. The reason his seniors were restraining Kohli was because they, and even Kohli, knew the England fast bowlers will not wait long before testing him with the short ball. Penney's, and effectively Dhoni's, suggestion was to pick your bowler and the situation. You do not play the shot just because you can.

Kohli is one of the most improved India batsmen and has shown his maturity in high-pressure situations in the past like the World Cup final. His 83-run partnership with Gautam Gambhir after the fall of the opening pair of Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag was one of the turning points in the match. Back at the nets Kohli improvised steadily if not readily and he impressed Penney when, after top edging an attempted pull, he played the next one with soft hands.

"To win a one-day match you need batsmen to bat through 20-25 overs and if given a chance, or if the situation allows, we would all like to take up the responsibility," Kohli said at the media conference before the training began. "It's about believing in yourself that you can win the game single-handedly and if we go out with that mindset, we are going to put up a really strong challenge."

He was asked if some of the Indian batsmen's technique against the short ball, which has been attacked and exposed by various bowling attacks, could provide an opening for an England bowling attack full of confidence following the 4-0 whitewash in the Test series.

"It's all about thinking in your mind how you deal with it," he said. "If you want to be scared of it and run away from it, you will end up being nowhere. I am pretty much up for it, I am very positive in my mind and I don't think I have any problem facing it."

Back at the nets, Kohli urged Penney "mix it up brother". He was steadily warming up for the duel with the England quicks. At the same time he needs to acknowledge he can't rush. As Penney threw his final ball, another short one, Kohli played it far from fluently. "Your positioning is not correct for that shot," Tendulkar made clear. Kohli nodded. He has a lot to learn and he is not afraid.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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