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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Srinivas on September 3, 2011, 15:39 GMT

    @5wombats, but I thought you and people like me also said that history and tradition is what binds us to Test Cricket ;). All of a sudden this U-TURN from you? et tu brutus.....

  • Dummy4 on September 3, 2011, 14:22 GMT

    @WOMBATS ok, while the english are having its stray day, we'll let them have it. After all its the first time they have gone to no.1 even though they invented the game. Guess history hasn't helped you too much either. We beat you in England last time, whitewashed you in India & will do it again this winter. It was just a one-off series on which you are getting off. Get back to your poor man's version of the Indian Premiere League and try to find 11 ENGLISH men who can play for the country, or else you can continue to import South Africans, Asians (and now New Zealanders) whatever works!

  • Dummy4 on September 3, 2011, 13:52 GMT

    @5wombats - I believe you are an England supporter and obviously have nothing to take from history where your team has been the best at CHOKING and losing and never being no.1 in Tests for atleast 3 decades before now ..SURE you cant look into history....Neither can you look into future cuz its gonna be India All Over World Cricket ;) ;)

  • Dummy4 on September 3, 2011, 13:49 GMT

    One Tour doesn't change anything. Agreed that test team is not going to be very strong with the likes of Dravid, laxman reaching retirement, sachin aging, kumble gone, harbhajan underperforming......................But that doesnt take anything away from the young one day squad...They will come back strong ! England needs to wake up from their dream and fly to the subcontinent and try to win...Winning in your back yard comprehensively is a big thing but that doesnt mean you become world champions (which India already is ! ) :D :D

  • madhurendra on September 3, 2011, 12:22 GMT

    yes raina is improved, but still not test class, kohli has decent temperament n mukund resolution but will both gain by a county season as would raina; but the bouncer that struck rohit wasnt wicked or fast or steep and was still enough to hurt him and worse make him publicly wince in an undignified way- he simply doesnt strike me as test class or likely to get there unless india play bd at home on slow low flat deck- rohit may(more than rahane, pujara, raina, kohli or mukund) break laras test high score then. rahul shouldnt have been given out on the evidence before 3rd umpire.

  • spirit on September 3, 2011, 10:30 GMT

    @Basit Dilawaiz,by saying that indian batsman scores heavily only in subcontinent i advice u to check the stats,gambhir still averages 54 outside subcontinent and 46 in asia,dravid averages far more outside subcontinent,sachin has similar performance at subcontinent & away,laxman averages 44 outside subcontinent(just 2 runs below his career average of 46),its only sehwag who struggled with an average of 37 as against his career of 52..other players like kohli,raina r still new to test cricket..only time will tell how other players r but ur comments that indian batsman scores only in subcontinent falls flat..

  • Martin on September 3, 2011, 9:52 GMT

    I would like to say to several indian posters - please stop with the history lessons. You may not have noticed - but history hasn't helped you thus far.

  • Dummy4 on September 3, 2011, 9:00 GMT

    Kohli along with all other indian batsmen score heavily in subcontinent. Outside it is a different story altogether. Please stop rating players on their performance in subcontinent.

  • Dummy4 on September 3, 2011, 8:46 GMT

    Well Said @Aditya Batra .Perfectly timed article by u.Every team has their unique problem.If they talk on teams weakness then they will be visible.What England has achieve winning series only in england.Did they ever win in india.But India has already won 3 times in england Story over and many times in india with england.

  • Senthil on September 3, 2011, 8:46 GMT

    All this hype about Kohli is actually helping Raina. Raina is the quiet one without too much to say but is constantly improving. Both are good for Indian cricket, but Raina is my man for the really tough situations for the next generation. Different roles for both though. Raina should be trusted to finish the job and give the innings later order impetus. Kohli to stay busy at the top or near it. Both kids deserve kudos and encouragement. May they stay positive. Rohit Sharma can play well if he is awake. Who says talent is overrated? Only if you are talented can you work hard to improve performance. You can kick a donkey as much as you want, it won't run like a horse. You have to pick a horse in the first place for a horse race.

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