In his tribute to Sachin Tendulkar, former England captain Michael Vaughan wrote: “Just being Sachin Tendulkar a day would exhaust most people in the world.” That line now shall comfortably include Virat Kohli, Tendulkar’s batting heir, no matter how distinct their methods and demeanours are. This is more so after India’s series loss in England, where Kohli repeatedly played the boy on the burning deck. He enhanced his image as an all-weather batsman. It’s a narrative of personal redemption for Kohli, who endured a woeful tour to these shores in 2014. But then, those numbers don’t matter much in a team sport.
Kohli put it down to a lack of finishing skills, which should rankle his batsmen more than the bowlers, for in the series defeat, the batsmen’s deficiencies have far outweighed other factors. Admittedly, top-order batsmen of both sides have struggled in conditions that have at times been cruel to them. Yet, as a set of Indian batsmen of a previous generation would acknowledge, the kick is in subduing the conditions, riding adversity and fickleness of form. Think VVS Laxman in Durban and Mumbai. Rahul Dravid in Headingley, Adelaide and Kingston. Sourav Ganguly in Brisbane and Kanpur. Sachin Tendulkar in Sydney and Cape Town.
Though Test cricket is essentially won by bowlers, the invincibles of every era had equally gifted batting line-ups. India clearly lacked one, even though they arguably landed in England with their best-ever fast-bowling unit, as coach Ravi Shastri emphasises. Statistics will vindicate their ordinariness. India’s second highest run-getter, Cheteshwar Pujara, has scored 303 runs fewer than Kohli. None of the others average more than 28. The openers have aggregated a shade above 16. The lower middle-order, from where came most of England’s resistance, caved in without showing much gumption. That India came close to winning two Test matches that they eventually lost was due to Kohli, his bowlers, and in one instance, Pujara. If this pattern continues, it would hold India back from being the India of Kohli’s grand design, the best touring team of this generation.