India v West Indies, 3rd Test, Mumbai, 4th day November 25, 2011

Mental toughness guides Virat Kohli

S Aga
Failure was not an option for Virat Kohli, coming in to this Test, and he ensured he delivered, albeit in an understated way

On the surface, there were similarities between the two. One was playing his third Test, the other his fourth. Both had won Test honours largely as a result of eye-catching displays in one-day colours. But while R Ashwin - who sat out the World Cup final - had taken to Test cricket with élan, picking up 18 wickets, Virat Kohli's arrival at the crease was effectively an audition for next month's tour of Australia.

Kohli has fond memories of this ground, having played a crucial cameo in the World Cup final. But in the Test arena, he has yet to find his footing. A debut series in the West Indies that produced just 75 runs in five innings had the critics carping, and he had no part to play in the debacle that subsequently unfolded in England.

Both he and Ashwin starred in the one-day successes against England, but only one man was a certain starter in this Test series. While Kohli watched Yuvraj Singh fluff his lines in Delhi and Kolkata, Ashwin was ensuring that he would be one of the first names written down for the Australian touring party.

With Rohit Sharma in the squad for this game and Ajinkya Rahane also in the reckoning, Kohli knew that failure was not an option. "When I came into the team, we had this team meeting with someone new in the team giving a speech," he said after a fourth day during which his 52 and a 97-run partnership with Ashwin saved India from the ignominy of the follow-on. "They made me do that again. I said that my first series was a disappointment and hopefully I can get things right this time around.

"I was in a good mental space before this series. I got runs against England, but it is a totally different ball game - Test cricket. It was difficult for me because I was thinking too many things. I put myself under pressure in the West Indies, thinking too many things, not sure what I wanted to do."

The cat-on-hot-tin-roof feeling was apparent again at times today, and in stark contrast to the nonchalance with which Ashwin went about his business. "He came out and started playing shots," said Kohli with the merest hint of a smile. "I am standing at one end trying to handle pressure, trying to get the situation right, and he gets five fours in 10 balls. He was pretty relaxed and confident because of what he'd done with the ball.

"It was good he was in that kind of space. He came out and timed the ball well. It was good to have him scoring from one end. I could bat myself in and spend more time in the middle. It was a very good innings."

His own innings had started in Sachin Tendulkar's company, with a large crowd throbbing with excitement at the prospect of history being made. Within the hour though, expectancy had given way to anxiety. "It's not an easy position [No. 6] to bat in Tests," said Kohli. "When I went in, I was playing with a set batsman. As soon as two batsmen got out, I had to be the one to play with lower-order batsmen. It was a complete transition in half hour."

The partnership with Tendulkar was brief, but he apparently had a big influence in the way Kohli approached this game. "I spoke to Sachin, and he told me to do the same things I do normally, on any given day," he said. "I went in a difficult situation in the morning, but I cherish playing under pressure."

With Ashwin playing the aggressor's role, Kohli could ease his way into proceedings, and he got as far as 52 before a miscue to mid-on off Devendra Bishoo. "Definitely, the way I was going, the way the situation was, it was the perfect scenario for me to get a big score," he said. "I wanted to go with the turn, but did not get too much elevation. I middled the ball but it went it straight to the fielder."

The biggest challenges had come much earlier, with the West Indies bowlers targeting a perceived weakness against short-pitched bowling. "I was tagged as someone who cannot play the short ball after West Indies, so when I went in, I knew they were going to throw short balls at me," he said. "I am more of a mindset player. I need to be in the right frame of mind. Today was one of those days when I thought that it didn't matter if they bowled short. I was going to get a full stride out. I had a blank mind before playing every ball - that kind of helped. It's all a menta -toughness game out there."

Lessons have been imbibed from a dressing room that knows a thing or two about toughness. "I never thought I would even get to meet these people face to face," said Kohli. "Now I'm sharing the dressing room. You learn so many things from them, especially in practice sessions. They will take a certain number of catches every day, they will hit certain amount of balls. It's not something they are complacent about. That's what makes them great players."

For India to pull off an unlikely victory on Saturday, they need wickets to fall in a heap in the morning. "Our aim was to get early breakthroughs, which we did," said Kohli. "We would have loved to have them four wickets down, but it did not happen. Tomorrow could be interesting if we could get early wickets and may be get one-and-a-half sessions to bat."

He batted over a session today and may just have sealed a spot for himself in the Boxing Day Test. On a day when Ashwin stole the limelight from everyone, Kohli's understated impact could have similar long-term ramifications for a side in transition.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on November 26, 2011, 19:47 GMT

    I guess the Carribean disaster was a fluke, he's way too strong a player to not get into the test side, it's just a matter of time till the big three retire and he gets his place at number 3 or 4, way to go Virat!!

  • K on November 26, 2011, 14:38 GMT

    go kohli.... and take into account he was batting with a tailender in knowledge that if he fails he is back to IPL so look at it this way: he had a chance and took it, unlike yuvi, raina, etc. kohli rohit rahane and pujara are the future. and it was TWO 50s with 6 or 7 wickets down not easy...

  • Pratyush on November 26, 2011, 2:02 GMT

    wow, going by the article it seems he has made a double hundred against the SA team on a green top! Reality : he made 50 against a dead attack on a dead track. Get It?

  • Ash on November 26, 2011, 0:37 GMT

    I am a huge fan of Virat Kohli but when the guy below gets a century who has a FC average of 34 compared to his 56 I fail to see how Virat has done enough... I mean I know Dhoni and Tendulkar just got out but everyone agree's this wicket is batting practice.... There are a few contenders for that no. 6 spot... & it's going to take a lot more than 52 on an absolute road to seal it...

  • Dummy4 on November 25, 2011, 22:58 GMT

    Sorry, I don't see the "mental toughness", just a chip on the shoulder which sometimes leads to dropped cathes as in the final over. His technique was okay yesterday, but then any batter playing first-class cricket, maybe even club cricket, could have batted easily on the Wankhede track. He was dropped once off a horrible shot and perished playing a very poor shot. Is this guy capable of countering a 4-pronged Aussie pace attack, I think not. But, then who among the Indian batsmen is, except for the seniors, and that too in patches.

  • Dummy4 on November 25, 2011, 21:50 GMT

    I hope India has someone that can help Virat because he is not a test batsmen

  • kan on November 25, 2011, 21:42 GMT

    Pujara should be picked for Australia test tour, he should play at 5, laxman at 6. Kohli is backup for no. 5,6, Ajinkye Rahane is back up for no. 1,2,3,4.

  • Venkatesh on November 25, 2011, 21:26 GMT

    with just a 50 against a mediocre bowling in a flattest of the tracks, i really don't understand the logic behind him having his berth confirmed for the AUS tour. Kohli's talent has never been in question, just that there are others who qualify for the no.6 slot better than him. Kohli was a disaster in his debut series against WI in WI.I seriously think Badrinath.S is being given a raw deal.

  • Prem on November 25, 2011, 20:08 GMT

    Wait, so he gave a catch to get out at 52 despite him admitting that it was a perfect time to score big, and you say it was a good effort? A tail-ender outscored him despite scoring quicker, and he's the one that's getting plaudits?

  • Dummy4 on November 25, 2011, 20:05 GMT

    It was very heartening to hear from both,kohli and rohit,that they want to do well in test cricket.all the young players today are obsessed with t20 cricket which is really a funny format of our game but we don't remember t20 performances while if you score a test hundered under difficult circamstances would be remembered for years.I would not like to see these two players spoilled with riches of limited overs cricket like yuvraj and raina who also are very talented but failed to impress people as they didn't have that mental strenght to deal with test a long way to go for both kohli and rohit in establishing themselves in the test team.keep going wiith your improvement

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