Virat Kohli knows it is not just James Anderson and England who are lying in wait for him. It is many more outside the ring, who want to see whether he is really the best Test batsman in the world. Four years ago, Kohli left England embarrassed. Four years later, questions still remain about Kohli as a Test batsman in England. He has five Tests to show how far he has come.
That may be what the general public thinks of Kohli's state of mind on the eve of a Test series. But it's not what Kohli is thinking. That's what he says, at least. He has already said he isn't out to prove a point as a batsman in England.
Still, Kohli has been waiting for this Test series for a while. His keenness can be gauged from the fact the he wanted to experience true English-like conditions by playing in county cricket for a short stint.
That did not come through, but it doesn't matter. The episode revealed his desire to learn, to understand, to adapt to the conditions and the bowlers. It can be gauged from the fact that as early as late June in Malahide, where India were playing T20 cricket, Kohli had a training session batting against the red ball. He certainly is keen.
Having spent nearly 40 days in the UK now, Kohli, like other Indian players who play all three formats, is more relaxed - both in his mind and about his game. Before leaving India, Kohli said that for him to succeed on the field, he needs to live a normal life outside cricket. In the past few weeks his wife Anushka Sharma has been travelling with him, and the pair has enjoyed doing things a normal couple would do - taking a stroll, having a coffee, commuting between cities in a train.
Mentally, Kohli is in a good place. On the field he has been his usual, focused self. Kohli's training sessions are unique, in that he displays the same intensity that he would while facing Anderson in an actual match. In everything from his trigger movement to his head to his bat speed, to the point where bat connects with ball, you see Kohli is intent on scoring runs.. It is the 'feel' he is after.
On Monday, facing all the Indian fast bowlers, Kohli displayed the same routine. He would call out "one" each time he connected in the middle. Kohli believes in rotating the strike even in Test cricket, in making sure the bowler is always pushed back in his corner and gains no upper hand. He does not play the waiting game.
While we zoom into his batting with a critical lens, Kohli has a million things to ponder. What is the right combination of batsmen, who should comprise the bowling attack, should India field two spinners, and if yes, who should they be? Another challenge for Kohli would be the absence of a smart brain like Bhuvneshwar Kumar by his side. Bhuvneshwar played a dominant role not just with the ball, but also as a leader of the pace pack, in South Africa.
A five-Test series has the potential to reveal the character of a player, his skills and strengths. This Test series will test his patience and judgment severely, and if he comes through it successfully, he will come out of it an evolved leader.
Kohli will need help. He will need his top order to walk in, settle down and push the fast bowlers into their second and third spells. The batsmen will need to stitch partnerships that can not only exhaust the opponent, but also help India raise competitive scores, especially in the first innings. India failed to do that convincingly and consistently in South Africa, in a series they desperately wanted to win.
He will need Ishant Sharma to graduate from workhorse to match-winner. He will need his slip catchers, including himself, to take the chances when they come.
At the outset Kohli has displayed a sense of calm. On Tuesday afternoon, he arrived to pose for a moment with England captain Joe Root and the Pataudi Trophy. The next moment, he stretched his arms and walked to the pitch. He then addressed the media and said outside opinions do not influence him any more. He walked out of the ground back to the team hotel without any training. Kohli is ready. Kohli is relaxed.