Indian batting seems to be all about Virat Kohli nowadays, with the skipper hitting his fourth century of the tour of South Africa. The Indian captain finished with more than 800 runs in the three Tests and six ODIs that included 153 in a losing cause in the Centurion Test and a hard-fought 54 in the Johannesburg Test which India won, plus three tons in 50-over cricket.
No other batsman, or South African for that matter, came even close to Kohli’s tally, forcing some to compare the current India batting to that of the 1990s where Sachin Tendulkar carried the bulk of the batting on his shoulders. However, India off-spinner Ravi Ashwin says that’s not the case, stating that while other batsmen have contributed, the size of Kohli’s innings is making their efforts look less significant.
“If you see in the South Africa series, there were some amazing contributions from other batsmen which have gone unnoticed because of the sheer magnitude of Virat Kohli’s runs,” Ashwin told Sport360 on Saturday at the GenNext Kings’ Cricket Academy in King’s School, Al Barsha.
“Kohli made 50 on a tough wicket at Wanderers and 150 in Centurion. But Murali Vijay in Centurion, where he made 40 odd, and in the second innings at Wanderers where he just blunted the new ball… Cheteshwar Pujara’s 50 in a big seaming pitch (in Jo’burg). These are all digs people don’t notice because people understand Test cricket very poorly these days. The magnitude of those innings need to be applauded. Because without Pujara and Vijay blunting the new ball, it will be very difficult for lower order to score.”
India lost the Test series in South Africa 2-1 before romping to a 5-1 win in the ODI series. Ashwin said his team could have been on the victorious side in the Test as well if they had played better cricket at the start of the series. India dropped multiple chances in the second Test in Centurion and gave away three top-order wickets to run-outs to lose the series.
“We did very well in South Africa. We managed to tick off a Test win. Should have probably won the series if we were a bit lucky or played better cricket at the start of the series,” the 31-year-old said.
“Going into every series, we will have to work very hard. There will be matches we will lose, especially when we travel abroad. How well we come back from the losses, how well we play throughout the entire duration of the four or five Tests will decide how much we are going to be successful.”
Ashwin himself didn’t do too badly, picking up seven wickets and hitting a couple of 30s in the first two Tests against South Africa. For the Tamil Nadu spinner, it was a job well done.
“South Africa series was very good quality. I had a good series. Probably would have liked to convert a few batting stints into bigger knocks. In challenging conditions for batsmen, I batted very well. Bowled even better. Struck some crucial blows throughout the series. Would have been nice to have a five-for. I was very close (in Centurion) but we dropped a few catches, but that is part of the game.”
India off-spinner Ravi Ashwin says bowling leg-spin is already proving to be a lot more effective than his regular bowling style as he has started to get wickets even off ordinary deliveries.
Ashwin, one of the finest off-spinners produced by India with 311 scalps from 57 Tests, has added another dimension to his bowling – leg spin – in an attempt to reinvent his game and regain his spot in the limited-overs side which is now occupied by wrist spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav.
He worked on the mysterious art for two seasons before becoming confident enough of trying it out in a competitive match. That was the Indian domestic 50-over competition Vijay Hazare Trophy earlier this month. He finished with nine wickets from five one-day games for his state side Tamil Nadu using variations of leg spin.
“The one thing I have realised is I have got a wicket out of a full toss and short ball out of the nine wickets I got in Vijay Hazare (tournament). There is the advantage of bowling leg-break. I bowl a beauty of a leg-break and they get beaten and the next ball is a short ball and they get out,” Ashwin told Sport360 at the GenNext Kings’ Cricket Academy at Kings’ School Al Barsha.
“I have a big leg-break, I have a googly and a flipper. I don’t think I need more. I am 100 per cent match ready with it. Execution might go wrong here or there. Even with my off break with 10, 11 years of international experience, I bowl the odd loose balls. It’s bound to happen. Leg-breaks are bound to produce loose balls.”
What makes Ashwin confident about his leg-spin skills is the fact that he has picked up wickets in a 50-over tournament against Indian batsmen. Nine wickets across five matches has shown Ashwin he is on the right track.
“It has been a very challenging ride. I am enjoying the fruits of what’s coming out. Playing in a premier one-day tournament (Vijay Hazare trophy) and delivering with the new skill gives me a lot of confidence. The Indian domestic batsmen are very good players of spin and I managed to get wickets against them so that’s a positive sign,” the 31-year-old added after a training sessions with budding cricketers in Dubai.
While Ashwin the leg-spinner is doing just fine, there are some concerns over what a radically different action could do to his main trade – off-spin bowling in Test cricket – that he has fine-tuned over a decade. But Ashwin says it’s all flowing smoothly.
“This is an attempt I have made. I went to South Africa and I just bowled just off break. It seemed just fine. I am assuming it will stay fine. These are improvements and innovations people need to make. The game throws the challenges, all you need to do is embrace it and try and see if you can match up to it. At least I know that when I hang my boots, I know I have made an attempt.”
Aggressive. Brash. Ill-disciplined.
When Virat Kohli started his international career, these words were used to describe the mercurial Delhi batsman.
A spell outside the team and a period of introspection saw Kohli reinvent his game, attain an exemplary level of fitness and then establish himself as not only one of the best batsmen of this generation but also the undisputed leader of the Indian team across all formats.
Kohli first rose to prominence during a domestic Ranji Trophy match playing for his state Delhi against Karnataka in 2006, his debut season.
On the third day’s play, Kohli hit 90 to save the match.
The astonishing part of the innings was the fact he played despite losing his father the night before.
Two seasons later, he led India to the Under-19 world title alongside future internationals Ravindra Jadeja and Manish Pandey.
After he was signed by Royal Challengers Bangalore for the inaugural Indian Premier League season in 2008, Kohli’s profile reached the stratosphere.
But after his ODI debut in the same year, Kohli found himself out of the team.
Kohli admits his “conduct off the field” was a possible reason.
Kohli doubled down in the domestic scene and forced his way back into the ODI eleven, hitting his first century against Sri Lanka at the end of 2009.
He had to wait until 2011 to make his Test debut, after lifting the 50-over World Cup a few months before.
A disastrous tour by India of Australia in 2012 where the Indians lost 4-0 brought personal redemption as Kohli hit 116 in Adelaide.
On that same tour, during an ODI tri-series, Kohli hit an 86-ball 133 to help India chase down 321 inside 37 overs that underpinned his credentials as a master of chases.
Not content with being just a good batsman, Kohli revamped his game after an ordinary 2012 IPL.
Out went late night parties and an unregulated lifestyle off the field and in came discipline with fitness at the front and centre of Kohli’s cricket.
The other turning point in his career came in 2014 when he was named Test captain and scored centuries in both innings at Adelaide against the Aussies.
His Test batting flourished under the weight of captaincy; six double centuries as skipper is already a record in Tests.
So proud of the whole unit. 🙏👍 What a series win. Jai Hind! 🇮🇳 pic.twitter.com/C2lgzmak7k— Virat Kohli (@imVkohli) February 16, 2018
But the most captivating aspect of Kohli’s batting is his record in ODIs, and especially while chasing.
Combining the prolific run-scoring of Sachin Tendulkar with the finishing touch of Aussie legend Michael Bevan, Kohli has become one of the greatest ODI players off all time.
He is second on the all-time list of centurions behind Sachin Tendulkar (49) despite having played less than half the number of matches.
By the time Kohli finishes his career, he is almost certain to become the most accomplished limited overs batsman in history.
Kohli has had his fair share of lows with the bat as well.
During the 2014 England tour, he managed 134 runs in five Tests with his technique outside the off stump getting exposed.
One of the best ODI innings I have seen in the recent past. Congratulations, @imVkohli! Excellent work by #TeamIndia to win an ODI series for the first time in South Africa. Way to go, boys✌️✌️ #SAvIND 🇮🇳 pic.twitter.com/IjAlV2YpHp— Suresh Raina (@ImRaina) February 16, 2018
Reworking his game outside the off stump with the help of Sachin Tendulkar, Kohli took his game to the next level.
He now has Test tons in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand and ODI centuries in every nation he has toured.
Kohli has set numerous batting and leadership records for India, the foremost of them being leading the team to nine successive Test series wins and a first ever ODI series success in South Africa.
His career might not have started on the best note but by the time he approaches the end, dedicated, uncompromising and successful are most likely to be the words used to describe one of the finest players produced by India.