Virat Kohli's poor numbers against England in Tests defy logic. It is an enigma in itself, considering how the Indian Test captain has managed to impress cricket statisticians and fans alike worldwide with his brilliant form across all formats.
The 28-year-old has so far played two Test series against Poms, in 2012-13 in India and in 2014 in England. But instead of scoring heaps of runs, the prodigious batsman somehow conspired against himself and ended up a disappointment to the chagrin of millions of fans. Ever since his English debacle two years ago, Indian fans have been waiting for a fitting response from their favourite player.
In his 17 innings against England, Kohli has amassed 322 runs, 103 being his highest, at an average of 18. These numbers from the world's premier batsman tell a different story, the one related to the batsman's rare inability to break shackles when playing against England.
So, when the two teams meet at Rajkot, the onus will be on the Indian skipper to set the record straight and lead the team by example.
India's recent success in Test arena can be attributed to his overall leadership skills. It's not that Kohli is a better captain than his predecessors, but a vibrancy can be seen in the way he marshalls his troops. Couple it with an unrivaled individual output, his leadership becomes a thing to admire. That's what his team-mates have been doing of late.
These two aspects — leadership skill and form — correlate in Kohli's case, just like in the perspective of majority of captains world over. His failure with the bat will, no doubt, impinge on his captaincy. So, it's paramount for the skipper to score runs, in loads.
And that brings us to this question: Will he (be) able to bury this seemingly overgrown English ghost during this series? From whatever he's been doing of late, it seems, Kohli will be able to consign this fallacy too. The timing, momentum, all seem aligned perfectly in favour of Kohli's epiphany.
Here are two points giving Kohli, and India the advantage against Alastair Cook's men:
1. Spin: As they say, spin is the devil in the sub-continent. That's what everyone had witnessed in Bangladesh. England, starting as the obvious favourites, thanks to their illustrious history and indomitable spirit, found themselves reduced to dust in Chittagong and Mirpur, with a certain teenage Mehedi Hasan Miraz toying with the visiting batsmen.
England scrapped to a 21-run win in the first Test, but they were not so lucky in the second match. And post Mirpur defeat, alarm bells have already begun ringing in the English camp, with former players and captains predicting a 0-5 whitewash. No points for predicting the winners here.
Unlike their previous visits to India, wherein Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar managed to give the hosts a heavy dose of their own medicine, this time, Alastair Cook's team lacks the spin sting. As seen in the just concluded series against New Zealand, the concoction of spin and sensible batting will always be the winning potion for any team touring India.
It's true, India have struggled against Moeen Ali, even in English conditions. But Ali and his spin twin Adil Rashid look pale in comparison to India's troika of Ravichandran Aswhin, Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra.
Considering these facts, Kohli should continue to deploy an attacking game-plan against England, and help himself to the comfort of playing behind his trusted spinners. That's what astute leaders do when in the face of troubled past.
More so, England are now low in confidence after that test-by-spin in Bangladesh. They will take extra caution when facing a more established and dreaded spin attack from India. Meaning, India have already won the first battle here, thus giving confidence to the skipper.
2. Pace: Then, there's a bunny talking. Like any other batsman, Kohli has had his share of ignominy against a particular bowler. It's no shame, finding a worthy opponent. But this one seems to have gone out of hand. In nine Tests, this bowler has managed to get Kohli out five times. And that lucky bowler is James Anderson, one of the greatest fast bowlers of his generation.
Initially, it looked like that England were giving ample time to their prized bowler to fully recuperate and prolong his illustrious career. But in a high stake series like this one, you never know. Thus, it happened. The 34-year-old, who missed the flight to India, was drafted into the Test squad.
England sure has got a huge boost, but with no match practice at hand after a long injury lay-off, Anderson will find it hard to produce the goods on his return, immediately. This rush from the ECB is a good news to Kohli, who is primed to take on Anderson, and for that matter of fact, any bowler in the world.
It's a fact that Anderson, in the past, managed to toy with Kohli's mind, but this time the battle will be fought under a different backdrop, and both the stars will start from zero.
Anderson's high rate of success against Kohli, one of the most technically correct contemporary batsmen, was mainly due to a constant probing on just outside the off-stump area. And Kohli was dismissed four times caught behind, while fishing in that corridor of uncertainty.
But this time, Anderson will find a different Kohli, for the Indian skipper now knows the real worth of his wicket.
These are only a couple of pointers which both camps must have already discussed at length, and devised plans to amplify or negate according to their respective requirements.
Since taking over the Test captaincy reigns from Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Kohli has shown what a great leader he is. He has led India to four successive series wins, in Sri Lanka, against South Africa, in West Indies and against New Zealand.
The general conception is that he will certainly lead India to yet another series win, and kill the English ghost. Yes, it looks like just about the perfect time for Kohli to start adding more shades to his steadily growing stature as one of leading statements of the game – a captain who leads by example.