“Duck Duck Karne Laga Mora Jiyara Karne Laga," these ines, with the photos of Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma flashed across screen of mobile phones of followers of the game recently after the former suffered the ignominy of bagging two golden ducks in the games against Sunrisers Hyderabad in the ongoing edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL). The above troll was a reflection of Kohli’s wretched form with the willow during IPL 2022 that has seen him score a mere 216 runs in 12 outings to the middle with a solitary half-century against his name. This, combined with the fact that his last century in international cricket came came in November, 2019, against Bangladesh, shows that he is in the middle of a prolonged bad patch with the bat.
It would be galling for a player of the caliber and pride of Kohli to go through so many matches without being able to contribute substantially with the bat. He has been hailed one the top batsmen in contemporary international cricket and even won comparisons with the great Sachin Tendulkar, from who he took over the mantle of being India’s leading batsman. His tremendous self confidence bordering on arrogance, aggressive style of batting wherein he took the fight to the bowlers nonchalantly, the glittering array of strokes all around the wicket and ability to come good in difficult situations made him a favourite of crowds the world over. But, all of a sudden, he is made to appear like an ordinary mortal as the gifts that made him strut the batting crease like a colossus have vanished.
What exactly is this bad form and why does this happen? There are no simple or straight answers that will unveil the mystery of this malady which afflicts even the best of sportspersons. These are phases when top drawer athletes find it difficult to perform those tasks that they were doing with unbelievable ease repeatedly. Thus, batsmen lose the ability to play strokes and start allowing the bowlers to dominate them. Similarly, bowlers find it difficult to land the ball in the places where they wish it to be and end up bowling loose deliveries. Repeated failures with the bat and ball bring in their wake more stress and tension, which worsen the situation even further.
Experts say that these phases happen when players lose confidence or get distracted for some reason or the other. A single dismissal brought about by lack of concentration can dent the confidence of a batsman while one bad spell when he is mauled badly can lower the self assurance of a bowler. All players at the top level are immensely talented and they spend thousands of hours in practice sessions to hone their skills to perfection. Thus, when they go out to bat or bowl in front of thousands of spectators, their mind and body get into perfect synchrony enabling them to perform by sheer instinct. It is this ability that empowered batsmen like Sunil Gavaskar and Gundappa Viswanath to face the fiery fast bowlers of the West Indies who delivered thunderbolts at speeds above 90 miles per hour during a period when the quickest of trundlers in India could not send the ball at pace 75 miles per hour. Their instinct, perfected through practice, helped them to get into the correct position to face these bowlers without any discomfort. Similarly bowlers go to the top of their run up and deliver the ball in complete rhythm, pitching the deliveries in areas where they wish to, without any difficulty.
It is this instinct that a player loses when he stumbles upon a bad patch. The loss of rhythm results in emergence of problems, some of which may appear to be downright basic. A classic example is that of Mohamed Azharuddin who forgot how he used to grip his bat when he was in the batting dumps! This was detected by Zaheer Abbas of Pakistan to whom Azhar turned for help when he runs dried up from his bat. The change in grip back to the old one was the only thing that Azhar needed to rediscover his form and he struck a century soon enough to signal that the bad patch was over. In the case of Phil Edmonds, the left-arm spinner who played for England during the 1970s and 80s, this came in the form of forgetting his run up to the wicket! This happened just prior to the tour of India in 1984-85 and the spectacle of Edmonds shuffling to the wicket in his delivery stride will not be forgotten by those who witnessed it.
How does a player get over a period of poor form? The only way out is to regain self confidence, which can happen only if the cricketer spends a good amount of time in the middle, performing his specialist task. A batsman will need to spend two-three hours at the crease and play a long innings so that he can feel himself getting back the rhythm that he lost. This is no easy task as bowlers from opposing side will use all the tricks of their trade to deny an out of form batsmen any easy runs. Many a time, batsmen going through a bad patch try to play risky shots in the fond hope that some quick runs will help to restore their confidence and help to get an upper hand over the bowlers. But such attempts do not meet with success on most occasions and end with the batsman getting dismissed. This tends to add to the mental agony of the batsman, thereby increasing the pressure on him.
The only way out of a bad form is to keep faith in one’s abilities and practice assiduously to iron out any defects that could have crept into the technique. In some instances, batsmen would do well to cut out certain strokes that had been causing their downfall more frequently. This was the path taken by Sachin Tendulkar during the tour of Australia in 2003-04 when he found runs hard to come by. Finally, he decided to eschew the cover drive, which stroke had led to his dismissal many times in that series. The result was an unbeaten 241 in the last Test, compiled over 10 hours, which re-established Tendulkar’s position as the bulwark of Indian batting.
The worst instance of batting horrors in cricket history was the one that Mohinder Amarnath went through during 1983-84 season. Mohinder made a comeback to the national side during the previous season when India toured Pakistan and the West Indies. Amarnath scored mountains of runs during these two series when he faced the fastest bowlers in world in extremely difficult conditions. After these tours, he anchored the side during the semifinal of the 1983 ICC World Cup and was adjudged as “Man of the Match” in both the semifinal and final. His exploits prompted Viv Richards and Imran Khan to state publicly that he was the best batsman in the world against fast bowling. However, when the West Indies toured India in the season that followed, it appeared as if he had forgotten even the elementary principles of batting. His scores of 0,0,1,0,0 and 0 in six completed innings against West Indies tell the full story of his wretched form during this period. But when India played against Pakistan in October 1984, Mohinder was back in his element and hit a century in the very first Test of the series!
The adage “form is temporary but class is permanent” has stood the test of time in cricket. History tells us that batsmen who go through a lean patch demonstrate an improved appetite for scoring runs when they get back to top form. In the case of Kohli, it is likely that this bad phase is on account of low motivation following his removal from the captaincy of national side. He has been playing the game almost nonstop, at the highest level, for almost a decade and it is time he gave his body some rest and allowed his mind to relax. A short break away from the game will help to recharge his batteries will enable him to come back to international cricket with renewed enthusiasm and hunger for runs.
Let us give Kohli the time and space required to work his way out of this lean period with the bat. He is too intelligent, talented, ambitious and proud to allow a small misstep of this nature to evolve into a tumble. Once he finds his touch, his bat will do the talking and send trollers scurrying for cover!
(The author is a former international cricket umpire and a senior bureaucrat)