What is the biggest fear in your life?” Rahul Dravid, the current Indian head coach, was asked on a television show many moons ago when he was among the most prolific batsmen in the world.
Dravid didn’t pause for a moment to respond.
“My biggest fear is that I wake up one morning and realise that I have forgotten how to bat,” Dravid replied.
It’s not a crime to have insecurities, to fear losing your biggest weapon.
Did Muhammad Ali fear losing the sting in his punch?
And has a sense of fear ever engulfed Rafael Nadal — the fear of losing his vicious top spin that wreaks havoc every summer on the red clay in Paris?
When Virat Kohli played that glorious cover drive match after match until the end of 2019, few could have imagined that the Indian run machine was going to be susceptible to that same off-stump line.
Kohli’s prolonged lean phase has led to prime-time television debates in cricket-obsessed India.
But more than the three-year wait to end his century drought, it’s his vulnerability outside off stump that has boggled the mind.
Here is a batsman that hit hundreds for fun until three years ago.
While his wide range of shots on both sides of the wicket tormented the best of bowlers in varying conditions, it was that cover drive that became his signature shot — executed with the perfect head position and a mesmeric follow through.
He still conjures that magic every now and then, but follows that up with his indecisiveness while playing the same off-stump line, falling in the slip cordon or the wicketkeeper’s gloves.
Has Kohli’s formidable weapon now become his biggest weakness?
Or have some technical flaws suddenly crept into his game?
Maybe, it’s all in the mind.
Follow Tendulkar’s lead
Sunil Gavaskar, the epitome of batting perfection, says he might be able to bring Kohli out of this dark phase with a 20-minute pep talk.
But Dilip Vengsarkar, Gavaskar’s former teammate and the owner of one of the most majestic cover drives in cricket history, feels Kohli should take a leaf out of Sachin Tendulkar’s book.
Tendulkar had famously scored a double hundred in the 2004 Sydney Test without playing a single cover drive, showing remarkable self restraint after coming into that match with a similar pattern of dismissals outside the off stump.
“If you take the example of Sachin Tendulkar in 2004, he was getting out in the same way in Australia. So he cut off that scoring area completely and scored 241 in the last Test match of that series, without playing the cover drive,” Vengsarkar recalled during a chat with Khaleej Times.
“Similarly, Virat also has the ability to do the same, he needs to work hard in that area and play effectively.”
Vengsarkar, the former chairman of selectors who fast-tracked a teenage Kohli into the Indian team in 2008, says there is nothing wrong with Kohli’s technique. “Look, he is a great player and he has scored all his runs all these years with the same technique. So I don’t think there is anything wrong technically,” he said.
“But yes, he is getting out in the same fashion, so he should stay more alert and work hard on that area because the bowlers are now going to bowl that off-stump line to him all the time. They are not going to bowl on his pads, they are not going to bowl the half volleys to him.”
Play more games
The current Indian selectors, according to Vengsarkar, have also erred in dealing with the out-of-form Kohli.
“I don’t understand why the Indian selectors have rested him for the West Indies series. If he is in their scheme of things for the T20 World Cup in Australia, he should play as many games as possible to get his form and confidence back,” the former India captain said.
“That would help him. Resting him sends a wrong signal because if he is going to Australia, then he will go without really big scores behind him. That would worry him as well.”
Kohli’s scores in his last 10 innings in competitive matches — 17, 16, 11, 1, 11, 20, 7, 25, 73, 20 — offer a very good insight into his fragile state of mind.
That tentative push outside the off-stump is one common feature in most of those cheap dismissals.
So has Kohli, 33, suddenly forgotten how to bat?
Certainly not, but to come out of this nightmarish phase, he needs to play more and more matches.
“I always feel that when you are not scoring runs, it’s important to play as many matches as possible and spend time in the middle, and get back among the runs. This game is all about confidence,” said Vengsarkar, who knows a thing or two about batting with confidence, having scored six of his 17 Test centuries against the fearsome West Indies pace attack of Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding and Andy Roberts.