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Has Virat Kohli dropped the ball?

More than former Team India skipper’s flop show at Edgbaston, what would rankle with cricket lovers is his uncharacteristic on-field behaviour. Such behaviour is unbecoming of players of his stature

After India’s defeat in the just-concluded Edgbaston Test, now people, as well as critics, have begun to ask: Has the 34-year-old former Indian captain Virat Kohli become a liability to the team? What was sacrilegious until a couple of years ago is now obvious and very much valid. In the Edgbaston test, Virat Kohli scored a pathetic 11 and 20, respectively. He hasn’t scored a hundred in more than two years. His overall scoring form has dropped considerably, and despite all his efforts, he continues to struggle for runs. Remember, Kohli has the rare distinction of being the only Indian batsman with 50 plus average in all formats of the game. But it doesn’t hold true anymore as his test average has gone down below 50.

Every successful cricketer worth his salt goes through a lean phase in his career. It has happened with the likes of Tendulkar as well. So, to single out Kohli for this rough patch may not be entirely justified. But, for some inexplicable reasons, Kohli, once a potential match-winner for India, hogged the limelight at the Edgbaston test for all the wrong reasons, and which has now become the talking point on social media and in journalistic circles. He indulged in sledging, something we haven’t seen him doing so often before. He also got into an argument with one of the umpires for his decision to continue playing despite fading light.

In the first innings, Kohli kept sledging Bairstow (he scored centuries in both innings) just to provoke him and disturb his concentration. Then the former Indian captain blew a kiss after taking Bairstow’s catch. Perhaps, instead of his bat doing the talking, Kohli in this test match let sledging and gestures do all the talking which many believe was simply an uncalled-for display of bravado and machismo. Was this display of disruptive behaviour meant to cover up for his poor form?

Kohli, in this case, had wanted to run away with the assumption that his on-field behaviour, no matter how frivolous or juvenile it may be, would endear him to his cricket fans on social media. Nothing of that sort happened.

Last year, during the test at Lord’s, former England opener and old Kohli baiter Nick Compton came down on Kohli like a ton of bricks for his behaviour. “Isn’t Kohli the most foul-mouthed individual? I’ll never forget the barrage of abuse I received in 2012 when the swearing stunned me to the point that he did himself a serious disservice,’’ he had tweeted out.

And, despite the flow of runs having virtually dried up in the last two years, the former Indian captain seems to delude himself into believing that his place in the team, irrespective of his performance, would always be secure. In other words, no one can question either his questionable on-field behaviour or his poor run with the bat.

Last December, before the departure for the South Africa tour, Kohli set the cat among the pigeons when he refuted BCCI president Sourav Ganguly’s claims that he had asked him to not quit the T20 captaincy. Everybody sat up and took notice just because he played the perfect victim card besides throwing the gauntlet at Ganguly. And, perhaps, even Kohli knew that taking on BCCL on a sensitive issue was not a child’s play and that there would be debates and discussions galore on TV channels. It did happen with many former Indian players supporting Kohli on his stand. Again, was Kohli’s fulmination a red herring, and an attempt to deflect attention from his poor form?

In the South Africa test series, Kohli failed to fire on all cylinders. He managed to score only one half-century in the entire series. Dejected fans kept consoling themselves that this too shall pass and that he would again bounce back into reckoning by scoring runs. But Kohli is yet to prove his critics wrong even as the team continues to carry the can for his repeated failures.

More than Kohli’s flop show at Edgbaston, what would rankle with cricket lovers is his uncharacteristic on-field behaviour which is unbecoming of players of his stature. We are all fallible, and it behoves us all for this reason to be cautious. His theatrics are something the team can afford to do without. He is a senior player who needs to be an inspirational figure in the team brimming with young talent. What the team urgently needs is Virat Kohli’s return to form in this year’s ICC Men’s T20 World Cup to be held in October.

Aditya Mukherjee

The writer is an independent journalist based in Delhi

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