What ails Indian batting: Kohli’s slump or Rathour’s tips

After the team’s poor performance at Headingley, questions are being raised about Kohli’s slump and Vikram Rathour’s ability to pull him through it, Patriot  takes a closer look   

Two things are being talked about in public posts regarding the recent innings and India’s 76-run loss to England in the third Test at Headingley on the fourth day: One, skipper Virat Kohli’s batting slump during the last 22 months, and two, what is Team India batting coach Vikram Rathour doing about it?

Kohli, India’s most successful captain in the history of Test cricket, has failed to score a century since November 2019 against Bangladesh in day-night Test in Kolkata. In fact, he did only manage to score at an average of 19.33 in Tests in 2020. And he averages just 24 in 2021, with all failures in the first three Tests against England in the ongoing Test series.

However, what is even more worrying for Team India are the two lows it has witnessed in recent times under Kohli’s captaincy… The lowest ever score by any Indian Test team, 36 in Adelaide, and then the third lowest of 78 in Leeds most recently. In this 22-month period, Kohli’s or for that matter Team India’s batting coach Vikram Rathour’s position has not come under any kind of threat despite witnessing those lows. 

Rathour is closely related to the current BCCI treasurer Arun Singh Dhumal and more importantly to his brother, the former BCCI chief and current India’s Sports minister Anurag Thakur. In fact, Rathour and Arun Singh Dhumal are listed as Directors in one company where other members of their family are also Directors. One of the Directors in the company is his brother, Rakesh Rathour who is also the Punjab Cricket Association’s representative to the BCCI.

With so many powerful names behind him, Rathour is sitting pretty over his shaky seat of coaching a star-studded Indian batting line-up consisting of Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant amongst others.

In Test cricket, Kohli needs to work on his technique more than his temperament. The Indian skipper has been getting out on fuller length deliveries pitched around his off-stump and moving away.

James Anderson has exploited his mistake once too often in England. In the ongoing series too, Kohli has become the bunny of Anderson just like Kyle Jamieson, Tim Southee and Colin de Grandhomme, exposed a chink in his technique in recent times.

It was his failure against Jamieson during the ICC World Test Championship final 2021 in Southampton that highlighted the difference between New Zealand’s win and India’s loss.

In the ongoing series against England, Anderson has once again exposed Kohli’s technical issue by forcing him to edge delivery behind his bat four times out of a total five. Every bowler knows that Kohli likes to drive and here comes the batting coach’s role to sort out that technical deficiency in the nets.

But then with so little coaching experience at this big level, Rathour has either failed in his duty or he is not being taken seriously by such an accomplished batsman like Kohli.

It would be interesting to mention here that Rathour faced almost a similar problem during his short career of six Tests and 10 innings with the Indian team in the 90s. He also debuted against England at Edgbaston in 1996 and till he played his last game against South Africa at The Wanderers Stadium in early 1997, he could only manage 131 runs with an average of 13.1 with the highest of 44.

In a similar fashion Kohli pokes at deliveries outside off-stump, Rathour’s career nearly ended doing the same then!

 

Background of batting coach

India batting coach Vikram Rathour during a nets session at Emerald Headingley, Leeds Photo:Getty

Rathour was a senior national selector and was appointed to the post when Anurag Thakur was the Jt. Secretary of the Board and continued in the position till 2016. Thereafter he was appointed as the Director of Coaching at the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association. Rathour was subsequently appointed India’s batting coach exactly two years ago in 2019, replacing Sanjay Bangar.

In fact, Bangar was the odd man out to have lost the confidence of BCCI’s top brass after the World Cup semi-final debacle then. The remaining others, including fielding coach R. Sridhar and bowling coach Bharat Arun managed to cling on to their posts. 

Chief coach MSK Prasad-led senior selection committee then weighed in favour of Rathour, ignoring established names on the coaching circuit like Mark Ramprakash and Pravin Amre, as well as former England batsman Jonathan Trott.

Though, Prasad then maintained that “the team management did have their views along with those of Cricket Advisory members (CAC) Kapil Dev and Anshuman Gaikwad”, but the senior selection committee chose to go with the views of the “five wise men”.

But in reality, Prasad appeared eager to please the new Czars of Indian Cricket Board (read Thakur/Dhumal family) as the CoA, who he had served, was on the way out and a new regime was set to take over at the BCCI.

What was surprising  then was the ruling of the BCCI ethics officer who chose to ignore the fact that Rathour was also a close relative (brother-in-law) of the then Junior Chairman of Selectors’ Ashish Kapoor along with his other conflict of interests. Ashish Kapoor was appointed as a Junior National Selector when Anurag Thakur was the president of the BCCI.

If this is not enough then no one in the BCCI will come out openly and candidly tell the public “how his real elder brother, Rakesh Rathour, has been representing Punjab Cricket Association in almost all the BCCI general body meetings during this time”.

This is at a time when the Supreme Court implemented the new BCCI constitution in 2016 to check on the issues of “conflict of interest” which had been exposed and discussed in public domain during the earlier regime of Tamil Nadu’s strongman N. Srinivasan.

 

Should Kohli quit the captaincy?

If Kohli does not score a big one in the final four innings of the ongoing English tour, questions will obviously be raised about whether he needs to quit captaincy in order to concentrate on his batting.

In any case, no one till date has managed to survive as team’s skipper after overseeing scores like 36 or 78. One should look at Ajit Wadekar’s team debacle in early 70s in England when he was unceremoniously removed as skipper after the team’s then lowest total 42. 

But Kohli is leading the team in a different era where his brand is bigger than the team’s totals! Also, the absence of any charismatic BCCI president or secretary is helping his cause. In the past, the likes of Salves, Dalmiyas, Pawars, Bindras or Srinivasans were much more powerful than the team’s captain and even Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar Sachin Tendulkar or Mahendra Singh Dhoni were made to obey the official diktat during the peak of their respective careers.

But right now, most of those ruling BCCI (read Sourav Ganguly and Jay Shah) are more bothered to save their respective terms in the wake of the Supreme Court’s “cooling off” ruling than actually bothering to question Kohli or coaching staff on such debacles.

It is important to mention here that going by the SC judgement on the BCCI spot-fixing case, both Ganguly and Shah should have relinquished their posts in 2020 itself. But with Corona-related restrictions in place, the SC has for some reason not bothered to look into such a blatant “contempt of court” issue.

 

 

Rathour, closely related to the current BCCI treasurer Arun Singh Dhumal and his brother, the former BCCI chief Anurag Thakur sits as a Director in one company where other members of the family are also Directors

 

And that’s how Kohli has also been left with a long rope to survive as skipper. But in reality, the 32-year-old (turning 33 in November) skipper has to concentrate on finding his batting form rather than actually continuing with the burden of leading the team, which he has been doing since 2015.

There is no questioning Kohli’s brilliance. His numbers in ODIs and T20s are simply magnificent. But it is the burden of too many expectations of modern cricket where his technique has taken a hit.

Kohli probably needs good mental space to overcome his technical challenges. He has done that quite successfully earlier if one remembers India’s tour of England in 2014 when Kohli did not score a single run off Anderson in three of the six innings he faced him. Overall, Anderson had dismissed Kohli five times and only conceded 30 runs from 10 innings.

Otherwise, Kohli has sailed past 20,000 runs combined across all formats, making him the only batsman to achieve this feat. He has been just nine centuries away from overhauling Sachin Tendulkar’s mark of 51 ODI tons. So, it is even more important for Kohli to consult someone who could help him technically and mentally to overcome this latest but the biggest challenge of his career. And Rathour probably is not the right man for this job!

 

(Cover: Virat Kohli of India walks off after being dismissed for a duck off the bowling of James Anderson of England during day two of the First LV= Insurance test match between England and India Photo: Getty)

 

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Chander Shekhar Luthra
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