1st ODI, India vs England, Pune, 15 January 2017.
Score 63-4. Dhoni has just been dismissed. The original target of 351, now reads 288 off 229. Kohli is batting on 27*. India’s trio of all-rounders, relatively unfancied, to follow. Kohli scores his 17th hundred in a run-chase, but the hero of the day is Kedar Jadhav whose prominence in the 200-run stand with Kohli took the game away from the opposition. Kohli the batsman extends his incredible record of successful hundreds in run-chases to 17, but Kohli the captain (leading in only his 18th ODI) has found a bankable lower-middle order batsman; the latter more critical as there only 2 more games to play to before India defends its Champions Trophy title in England later in the year.
1st Test, India vs Australia, Pune, 23-25 February 2017.
An extraordinarily dry surface greets the opening contest of the big ticket series. India dismiss Australia for 260 after losing the toss. Kohli walks in to bat at 44-2. Two balls later Kohli is back in the pavilion, falling to the juicy drive-inducing length from Mitchell Starc. India folds for 105, conceding a sizeable, potentially match-winning lead to the visitors. Kohli’s opposite number, Steve Smith, scores a special hundred in the 3rd innings on a precarious pitch and an attack comprising of Jadeja and Ashwin. India offer no resistance with the bat in the second innings as well and India lose its first test match of the season. Skipper Kohli has lost only his 3rd test match, and a first after 18 months. India fight back in the second test and level the series. Kohli is injured while fielding in the 3rd test (which is drawn) and misses out of the final, series-deciding test. India reclaims the Border-Gavaskar Trophy at Dharmasala and the long, successful home season concludes (Matches - 13, Won - 10, Draws - 2, Loss - 1). Kohli’s tally for the series is just 46 runs in 5 innings.
34th Match, Indian Premier League, RPS vs RCB, Pune, 29 April 2017.
Captains with contrasting fortunes and opportunities face off once again after 2 months at the Maharashtra Cricket Association (MCA) stadium. Rising Pune Supergiant (RPS) is looking at 2 points to get closer to the top-4 finish, while Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) are seeking a win just to keep the spirits and self-belief going. Kohli puts RPS in to bat on a slowish pitch and a 4 pm start. Good tight death bowling restricts the score to 157. RCB’s horror season finds a new low - the team ends up scoring 96/9 in 20 overs; despite Kohli’s 55. RCB’s season ends with merely 3 wins in 14 matches. On a personal front Kohli’s season with the bat reads 308 runs in 10 knocks; which by his high standards is nearly average.
2017 has been as heterogeneous for Kohli in terms of form and results as much as the Pune pitch’s has changed its character! The man who couldn’t do anything wrong with the bat in 2016, has had a slightly contrasting 2017 thus far. Terms like introspection, lessons learnt have made it to his speeches in press conferences. Given the form of other top-order batsmen, India’s fortunes in England may end up being directly proportional to Kohli’s performance. His personal record though isn’t the best in England with an average of 38.54 against his career average of 53.11. Momentum and history have thrown up an infrequent challenge for Kohli to tick a few boxes!
Virat Kohli will be leading the ODI side in a major tournament for the first occasion. Despite having a superb start to his test career as captain, which got him to be compared to all-time greats of Indian cricket, he now suddenly finds himself having to resort to plan-B’s and C’s more frequently since the last couple of months in different formats. To his credit though India’s current bowling attack has got rhythm, form and impact, which takes away a major chunk of the pressure on Kohli. The pressure of being the defending champions, the challenge of sustaining consistency in a knock-out kind of tournament will be an interesting examination of Kohli’s leadership.
The dual challenges of resumption of batting form and finding that charismatic, motivational leadership touch have colluded; and critically just before India sets out to defend the trophy in a high-intense, short tournament. In the last few months, while the aggression in the body language is very much there, you can sense the calmer and a more mellowed demeanor on the field and in his press briefings. The sense of responsibility is visible and so is the frustration of not being able to contribute enough with the bat. In the past, the best players in the XI have not necessarily been the most successful skippers; adding another apparent hurdle for Kohli to succeed in the long run.
In the larger picture the upcoming year could be defining season for Kohli, who is now India’s all-format skipper. More interestingly it will be engaging to see how Kohli approaches, probably more absorbing than the eventual outcomes! He has shown he can bat with different gears. His captaincy hasn’t been challenged enough. Can he command run-chases equally well when he is the skipper of the side? Does he have enough tricks in his planning to go through unyielding phases? How does he react in pressure situations? Does he think out-of-the-box on surfaces which don’t have anything for the bowlers? How quickly will he find his batting touch? The upcoming few series promise to answer, fully or partially, answer such questions, both necessary for academic interests and the fortunes of Indian cricket!