India in South Africa 2013-14 December 14, 2013

'Kohli needs to stay confident' - Jennings

Ray Jennings, the former South Africa coach and the current coach of Royal Challengers Bangalore, believes his ward, Virat Kohli, faces a difficult test in South Africa

Virat Kohli and Ray Jennings go back a long way. In 2008, Virat Kohli's Under-19 team was bowled out for 159 in the World Cup final, he had seen some of Ray Jennings' South African boys "playing football and relaxed as if they had come for a picnic" during the break. He had heard Bradley Barnes, the wicketkeeper, say they had sent India packing.

After pulling off a win that day, Kohli made it a point to be in the faces of the South African players as he swore with a stump in hand. Jennings, the South Africa coach, congratulated Kohli, shook his hand, and was Kohli's coach at Royal Challengers Bangalore a few months later.

Over the last five years, Jennings has worked closely with Kohli and, along with Anil Kumble, has been credited with moulding the batsman's attitude; he knows Kohli's game well. In those five years, Kohli has progressed impressively in international cricket, becoming adept at chases in ODIs, and showing he can cut it in Tests as well.

Jennings feels these two Tests in South Africa will be a difficult examination for Kohli, especially considering his performance in the ODI series - 31 runs in two innings. Both his dismissals followed shortish deliveries, which raised some flags. Jennings believes if there is a weakness in Kohli's game, it is against quick bowling, and South African conditions won't provide the Indian batsman any respite.

"It's going to be quite a difficult test for him," Jennings said. "South Africa in South African conditions will try to exploit his weaknesses. When you look at Virat Kohli as a batsman, he's a superb player of spin. If there is any weakness, it's while facing fast bowling. He will definitely be tested in South Africa, like he has been during the ODIs. He has to rise above that challenge in these conditions. It's a pity that it's only two Test matches because if he does well, people will say it's only two Tests. If he does badly, they'll say he failed in only two Tests. That is, unfortunately, the issue."

Jennings has spotted a weakness or two, but is in no mood to help the South Africa think-tank either.

"I have seen one or two things in the last two innings," he said. "I'm sure he's good enough and Duncan Fletcher is smart enough to rectify those issues. It's unfair for me to publicly talk about those weaknesses. You know I've grown up in South Africa, and I'm very aware of what people need to do to do well here. It's incorrect for me to put it out in the media because, obviously, the South African team and people like that will try to exploit those things."

Jennings feels that, along with Cheteshwar Pujara, Kohli is going to be key to how India do in the two Tests, especially because of the vast gulf between the two bowling attacks.

"I think India do have four-five players who are key," Jennings said. "I think Pujara is good. You have [MS] Dhoni. Their batting has more key players than the bowling. In South Africa, the Indian bowling needs to step up a little bit to level the playing field, because if the South Africans prepare green wickets and exploit the Indian batting, and the Indian bowlers aren't up to scratch, they can't exploit the South African batsmen."

Kohli, a No. 3 batsman in ODIs, has been batting at No. 5 for India in the Tests. Now with Sachin Tendulkar gone, there might be a chance to move one step up. According to Jennings, it won't make much difference for Kohli as long as he doesn't move up to No. 3. If he were the coach, he would want to keep Kohli confident despite the failures in the ODIs.

"I know Virat is a very moody and confident type of player," Jennings said. "So the most important thing for him right now is to get his mind into that confident state. To make sure he feels good about himself.

"I know Virat likes hitting a lot of balls and making himself feel good. If you see him walk very confidently to the wicket, he's a very destructive player. He needs to be in that mood. And you know players get built up with performances and things like that. After a few failures, you don't feel bad about yourself, but you are not confident about your skills. A confident player can deliver his skills while an unconfident player tends to hold back and finds it difficult to score runs. That to me will be a very important thing for Virat to look at."

Asked if Kohli might have a problem with the short ball - there were moments of discomfort in the West Indies in 2011, and he has copped a blow in the ODIs here - Jennings said it was all about getting used to the pace and bounce of the short ball in South Africa.

"The short ball in India is different to the short ball in South Africa," he said. "The important thing is, Virat and all the Indian players need to come to terms with the short ball in South Africa. It's all depending on how long they spend on the wicket and get used to the pace.

"I think when you look at India, it's a type of tour where you needed to come here two or three weeks before. While India has the slowest wickets in the world, South Africa has probably the quickest wickets in the world. As an Indian group of players, they should have come here a little earlier and planned a little better, if they consistently want to perform because by the time they get used to the wickets, the tour can be finished.

Jennings noted that the Indian batsmen have been rattled a bit, but said it was not unexpected.

"If you drive a car that goes a 100 kilometres an hour, and then I put you in one that is going at 170 kph, of course, you will be rattled and be troubled till you get used to the car going at 170kph," Jennings said. "In South Africa, the wickets are quicker. You are playing on our soil, where the ball swings differently, swings quicker and moves off the wicket quicker.

"When you compare the bounce, in India you need to put the ball a lot shorter and it lollipops to you. In South Africa, you don't need to pitch it that short. It comes up to you quickly. So it's a lot more intense and the conditions need to be adapted to before people start playing competitive cricket. If not, India will always find it difficult over here. They experience and adapt to the conditions over time.They will get better and better but, by the time they are really good, the series might be finished."

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Darshan on December 17, 2013, 6:25 GMT

    I will only comment on Kohli after 6-7 months when he will have enough number of Tests in overseas condition....Till then I can sy he is a promosing batsman...

  • Mohsin on December 17, 2013, 2:56 GMT

    In India's lsat 2 foreign tours, Kohli wasnt the big prized wicket & the bowling sides targetted SRT, Dravid, Sehwag. So, he slipped under the radar & got a 100 each in at Oval & Adelaide, which were the flattest tracks of the tour. Now onwards, the big 3 r Rohit, Kohli n Pujara on foreign tours. Their techniques will now be dissected by studying their modes of dismissals

  • Ashok on December 17, 2013, 2:00 GMT

    The question of playing with confidence applies to every batsman - not just to Kohli. Familiarity with playing conditions + crowd support gives one the highest confidence in any match. If on top of it your batting form is good based on your scores during the 3 previous matches, it adds to your confidence. When the same player performs on overseas pitches, every factor is against you. How to build your confidence? Kohli & the entire Indian batting is exactly in this situation. You have to go in the middle face the opposition bowling & build your confidence bit by bit. You have to be patient & disciplined. Focus on defence, singles by pushing the ball & middling every ball. Leave away balls alone. As you build your innings your confidence & judgement of pace of the pitch increases. Then you start playing the other strokes after you get your 40+ runs. This approach is lacking in the Indian batting. Best practice & confidence builder is in the middle. That is the best practical way!

  • DaGame on December 16, 2013, 18:03 GMT

    People who say Kohli is not talent are just saying that Out of Jealousy to bring him down because he is not from their favorite team. When Viv Richards says Kohli is the best man around in aggressive batting like him, there is no bigger compliment. Kohli is such a batsman he may take some time to take a start but once he finds his mojo, he is unstoppable. We saw how by the end of last Australian tour, how we was getting comfortable and knock the mouth guard of other teams. I know this tour is small so cant guarantee how will do but once he do, you better put money on him.

  • Munawar on December 16, 2013, 17:41 GMT

    Considering the requirements of lively tracks and the pace and bounce of South African pacers in their own backyard, skills, temperament, experience and form of Wasim Jaffer was required there. Jaffer should have been the first opener in the Test at Johannesburg. He is still easily the best Test openerin India today. Steyn, Philander and Morkel will eat Murali Vijay in the first session itself. Johannesburg is the fastest track there and not sure if even Kohli has the technique to survive the trio of Steyn, Philander and Morkel on that track. At the moment only Pujara and Rohit seem to have the technique and temperament to cope with them. Sincerely believe that Ashwin will be a big flop in the Tests in SA. Likes of Amla, Devilliers and Kallis will dominate Ashwin's average off spin skills as sadly there will not be the supporting dusty tracks of home to help him out there. Bhajji should have been there in SA for Tests but could Bhajji be there with Dhoni at the helms??Point to ponder..

  • Sriram on December 16, 2013, 14:35 GMT you even watch Test cricket? Kholi score a defiant 75 in Perth and 100+ in Adelaide in Test against solid pace attack in his first and only overseas Test tour especially when his team was crumbling. And add to that his 100s in ODIs in England in good seam, swinging conditions. He is yet to play that many overseas so why dont you reserve your comment until he has played enough overseas Tests.

  • Sriram on December 16, 2013, 14:31 GMT

    @moshin9975..i suppose your statement Kholi & co have been sitting ducks in the previous tours was not meant to be 'constructive'? Apart from Vijay, Pujara and Dhoni this bunch has not played Tests in SA and they will be tested. Kholi can look back and proudly say he handled aussies well in Perth and Adelaide in his first overseas tour with dogdy innings. Wil hold him in good stead. As for Dhawan, Rohit, Pujara and Vijay may be Rahane its massive test and very high expectations. I dont think they should be ridiculed if they fail aginast best in hostile conditions. But I will criticize them if they dont learn and perform after this tour. They still have 3 more overseas tour this year and a chance to show thier mettle.

  • Mohsin on December 16, 2013, 12:26 GMT

    Most fans here seem to be disturbed when this young brigade is criticised. Dey need to know dat all fans are entitled to criticise/appreciate d national team. Constructive criticism is welcome. Kohli & Co hav been sitting ducks in the ODIs & in Tests on previous SA Tour. No use fanatically backing players if they refuse to work on their technique. Arguing dat dey r world cup winners/CT 2013 champs says nothing about Tests playing ability abroad. If ODI ranking is an indicator of Test ability, why even hav separate Test rankings? SA r No.1 in Tests & India No.1 in ODIs. No denying this fact. Why do v hav to wait till SA/AUS/ENG beat us @ home to start working on tecniq to beat them on their pitches? This coming from a big indian fan

  • Arulprakash on December 16, 2013, 10:00 GMT

    Ashwin is probably the top scorer for India with the bat, because no expert sees how good he is and hence no plans