Ten years from now, Virat Kohli’s name may never be mentioned in the same breath as that of the Steve Smiths, Joe Roots and Kane Williamsons of the world.
A 50+ batting average is, generally, a reliable indicator of quality. This Delhi Dasher may never be able to achieve the former despite abundantly possessing the latter.
Some Test batsmen balloon their career averages up by minting a truckload of runs at home. They do score well overseas, but it is the runs at home that skew their averages up.
The trend set under MS Dhoni’s reign to produce ‘result oriented’ pitches (read: raging turners) at home is thriving in the Virat Kohli era as well. When confronted with a minefield, even the best of the best batsmen disguise themselves as Chris Martin. What's worse, even my grandfather’s off spinners appear to be coming out of Ravi Ashwin’s hands.
“At home you should play to your strengths and there is no need to hide behind that issue. It has been happening over the years whenever teams have played in their own countries. It is something that you expect. Teams are doing that in all countries” - this was the then Team India director Ravi Shastri’s reasoning prior to the South Africa Test series in 2015.
While I'm all for home advantage, pursuing it to the very extreme is self defeating. It is a fatal tactic whereby you’re accentuating the impact of luck on the result. You are, dare I say, gullibly compromising your own chances in the hopes of embarrassing visitors.
To make matters worse, it is not as if India has an army of class batsmen adept in playing on rank turners. In fact, the travails of the current Indian lot versus spin are well documented.
Since 1st January 2012, India has played 16 Tests at home, with its batsmen scoring 18 hundreds - only 2 of them coming in the South Africa series. Virat Kohli has scored 944 runs at 44.95 in the said period.
Batting records at home since Jan 1, 2012.
You can make two assumptions on the basis of these statistics: either Virat Kohli is technically incompetent against spin bowling or the extreme nature of the surfaces have been his undoing.
To say that Virat Kohli can't play spin is akin to calling MS Dhoni a great Test captain. 44.95 is by no means a batting average to be looked down upon. But you expect someone of Kohli’s calibre to average in the high 50s at home, if nowhere else.
Of the aforementioned batsmen, Kohli has had to bat on the most challenging of home pitches and has rarely had a crack on batting paradises. On the other hand, someone like Steve Smith has spent nearly all of his batting time on featherbeds.
During South Africa’s tour of India in 2015, India managed just the one 300+ score and that came in Delhi (334 all out) on a decent pitch. This was the only Test in the series that lasted five days - the other two completed games got wrapped up in three.
Indian pitches are traditionally known to assist batting in the beginning and wear on as the game progresses, allowing spinners to come into the contest. But since MS became Test skipper, a one way spin-train has become a norm.
This obsession with dustbowls is, visibly, unhealthy for Test cricket’s survival. More, fans are being deprived of great batsmanship from the likes of not just Kohli, but Pujara, Rahane and Vijay, not to mention visiting batsmen.
Since being ripped to pieces at the hands of Swann and Panesar in 2012, India have been lucky not to face a quality spin attack. And that is the reason they have kept their winning record going at home. New Zealand might change that later this year.
The Indian team management is convinced that 3-day spin fests are the only way India can win Test matches at home. India, however, showed in the Delhi Test (vs SA) that the team is skilled enough to persevere to a victory on a fair pitch.
That said, if the nature of pitches in India continues to be as spin-friendly as it is currently, I won't be surprised to see Kohli not feature among the most prolific Test batsmen of this generation. In fact, he might end up streets behind the likes of Smith, Williamson, Warner, and Root.
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