On the eve of India’s Champions Trophy semi-final against Bangladesh, Virat Kohli and Sanjay Bangar enjoyed a quiet meal at a Japanese restaurant in Birmingham’s Chinatown. It wasn’t the only time the two had stepped out together away from the pack over the last few months.
And it’s not just off the field. It’s become a norm to see the Indian captain and the batting coach involved in lengthy discussions during net sessions and Bangar spending lengthy periods providing throwdowns to Kohli. Amidst all the turmoil in the Indian dressing-room of late owing to the Anil Kumble issue and the former coach’s strained relationship with the captain, the Kohli-Bangar relationship has remained the same. And with Bangar here in the Caribbean as the stand-in coach in an unofficial capacity, it’s only expected to get stronger.
The two, in fact, spent a few days training at BKC in Mumbai towards the end of the IPL and before the Indian team left for the Champions Trophy in mid-May. There, it’s learnt, Bangar would basically focus on making Kohli, who wasn’t among the runs in the Tests against Australia and had a low-key IPL, drive at as many balls as possible to get that nice feeling of bat on ball that batsmen so crave for. How much of that actually was directly responsible for Kohli’s irrepressible form in England might be difficult to ascertain, but the sessions at the MCA indoor centre in BKC wasn’t the first time the two had taken time out to work on or fine-tune the otherwise prolific right-hander’s game.
Going back a long way
It’s a coming together that originally took place in Australia two and a half years ago when India arrived there for the four-Test series in the aftermath of Philip Hughes’ death. And it’s batting technique that brought them together. This was just five months after Kohli had endured a turbulent period against the moving red ball in England. Bangar wasn’t part of the coaching set up during those Tests in England. He, along with R Sridhar and Bharat Arun, had been added following that dismal series under Ravi Shastri for the ODI leg of the tour. And this was his first time working with Kohli in a full series away from India.
The two spent nearly four hours in India’s very first net session of the nearly five-month long tour Down Under working on one particular aspect. Two years later, in a batting master-class discussion with Nasser Hussain, Kohli would explain how he overcome a minor technical deficiency that had hurt him repeatedly in England-when he kept getting out caught behind the wicket-that led to him become the foremost batsman across all formats in the world. But it’s learnt that it’s during that first net session in Australia that the technical alteration was first worked on.
The alteration was rather basic. Since cricket is a side-on game, the focus was on getting Kohli’s right toe pointing towards point and the front-foot towards the cover region, and therefore ensuring that he was completely side-on. As a result, the bat-arc was coming down a lot straighter. It was discovered that the issue with Kohli during the England Tests was the positioning of his right toe and the subsequent impact on the rest of his alignment at the crease.
Since his right toe was pointing more towards cover-point, his left foot turned straighter towards mid-off almost, which meant he kept getting opened up even by straight deliveries that didn’t deviate much off the wicket or in the air from the likes of James Anderson.
Ever since, Bangar has been Kohli’s go-to man in the dressing-room. There’ve been a number of changes around them that the Kohli-Bangar partnership has had to endure. It started when Shastri was team director and Duncan Fletcher, a batting technique guru himself, was still the coach of the Indian team. Then came nearly a year-long period where Shastri held sway all by himself. Then came the Kumble era, which started promisingly but ended in a “rift” that has seemingly left a gloomy cloud over the Indian dressing-room. That Bangar should have survived it all without much of a fuss isn’t a surprise for someone who’s been referred to as Buddha for most part of his career.
If anything, it’s a testament to his temperament and ability to focus on his work without being distracted by the ruckus around him. For, the Indian camp doesn’t seem to have been a collectively happy one in the last few months.
This is not to say that Kohli and Bangar have kept their working relationship-which seems to have turned into a full-fledged mentor keen-student bond-behind closed doors. Kohli has never shied away from raving about Bangar’s contribution towards his batting and the batting coach, meanwhile, has always jumped at the captain’s defence whenever his form has been questioned like it was on occasions during the Australia series earlier this year. And even at a time where questions, and some uncomfortable ones, continue to reign over the identity of India’s next coach and his potential relationship with Kohli, Bangar continues to quietly and unassumingly go about his business like he’s always done, and justifiably winning the trust of the captain for good measure.