When a live rabbit is thrown into the cage of a lion, it is easy work for the king of the jungle confined to the zoo to enjoy a tasty treat. There’s nothing unsavoury about it, but if the lion then lets out a majestic roar you might wonder what’s there to yell about.
The West Indies looked like a rabbit tossed to the lion, except for the dramatic few hours after the innings break in the fourth game, and Virat Kohli’s mighty shout after hitting a century in the fifth game was like the roar of the wild cat. Unless we get to watch in Sunday’s one-off T20 game drama more engaging than what we have had in the last couple of weeks, the enduring image from this edition of the Indian tour of the West Indies will be that of a questionable roar.
T20 is a different ball game and the West Indies are the lions in the shortest format of the game. India are not necessarily the rabbits, but the destructive power at the disposal of the West Indies in the form of Carlos Brathwaite (6’ 4”, 120kg), Chris Gayle (6’ 2”, 100kg) and Kieron Pollard (6’ 4”, 100kg) is unnerving. Add to this pernicious concoction another lethal drop that turns up at 5’ 10” in height and 78kg in weight - Sunil Narine, and if he walks out with Gayle to open batting in the IPL 2017 style, Brahwaite will have the recipe to dish out a disaster for Kohli.
India have been trying lately to perfect the art of delivering the unbelievable in the limited-over versions of the game through a pack of dynamites who choose to go about their task in a conventional way. In ODIs, Team India have hit upon an uncomplicated way of posting a total in excess of 300: build a platform in the first 10 overs, indulge in consolidation in the 11-40 overs and explode in the final 10. It’s only when it came to chasing 300-plus targets the plan misfired a few times in the past, but the slow-steady strategy is their surefire way forward at the moment and until they have more than a couple of guys towering above the 6’ 2” mark and tipping the scales at 100kg.
Now, back to the roar of King Kohli at Sabina Park. Obviously, the skipper was angry and frustrated at the way he was getting trapped by the opposition outside his off-stump. When Jason Holder took advantage of Kohli’s weakness in the third match where he was consistently tested in the off-stump corridor and then bounced out for 11, the Indian captain’s reaction to it in the next game was as predicted — all arrogance. When Holder repeated the trick in the fourth as well to send Kohli back for just three runs, the Indian captain was hurt or humbled enough to abandon his ego and discover a mindset that was practical. The roar was the result.
Kohli was up against Holder right in the second over of the fifth ODI as Shikhar Dhawan was out off the last ball of the first over, dealt with the West Indies skipper’s off-stump bait patiently, leaving the wrong ones alone or defending the right way. He ditched his ego and ducked when Holder turned to bouncers.
At the end of the ninth over Kohli was well set having scored 22 off 27 balls, but he chose to play out a maiden over, the 10th, against Holder. Obviously, the West Indian skipper had no option but to pull out and by the time he was back, in the 30th over, Kohli was just 19 runs away from breaking into the roar, and the target for India was just 46 runs away, with eight wickets and 21 overs in hand.
From the point of view of managing one’s ego, the roar packed grace. It was, as Kohli would say after the match, all about “the satisfaction of actually planning the innings out and executing it well”.
Full marks to him on that count. In terms of context and contest, the roar was a bit ugly. Kohli scored a century, remained not out and took the team across the line, and the end result was a 3-1 series victory, true, but doing that against a team that failed to make the cut for the Champions Trophy and that has no one capable of winning a match either with the ball or the bat was nothing much to roar about.
Just a month spaced out the two, same mistakes in England and the two, same mistakes in the West Indies. Four in a month. Kohli need to stretch the gap between the roars.
The writer is a freelance contributor based in India. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman