The likes of Murali Vijay sometimes lack the positivity and sense of purpose their captain embodies, but mindset training is achievable
India batsmen must replicate Virat Kohli's mindset for Test success in England
It is instructive that one of Virat Kohli’s first utterances after India lost the Edgbaston Test last week concerned the attitude of his team.
Perhaps sensing disappointment, Kohli wasted no time in urging his players to remain “positive and fearless” for the rest of the series. After all, this was just one Test with four more still to go.
“We showed character at times. Our bowlers were outstanding in the second innings,” the captain said on Saturday. “Hopefully we will build on that.
“There is no hiding from this game. We have to play positive and fearless.”
Kohli was essentially telling his team that he was undeterred by one defeat. And why not?
Their bowlers, particularly spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and seamer Ishant Sharma, were superb.
Kohli himself scored 200 runs in the game, including a hundred and a fifty, making up to a certain extent for his failures during India’s last Test tour of England in 2014.
If not for a strong all-round performance from Sam Curran, India may well have won the game.
Leaving his mark at Edgbaston not only helped Kohli put his 2014 struggles behind him, it also served as a reminder to both his opponents and his teammates that he was not about to go down without a fight.
And by saying what he said, he was sending a message to his teammates – particularly his batsmen, who had been poor throughout the match.
The question, though, is how they can bounce back with so little time left before the second Test gets under way at Lord’s on Thursday.
The fact that they are likely to find the pitch closer to their liking than the one on offer at Edgbaston is a good start.
But while the nature of the 22-yard strip is crucial in the context of a Test match, the real challenge for the batters is to conquer the much smaller piece of real estate that resides between their ears.
The mind can be a wonderful thing, but only if it is disciplined.
This is especially vital for any batsman placed in a Test match situation, given that so much of it is about will power and concentration. The two are inextricably linked, too, for the latter can only be sustained when the former is strong.
One of the great challenges for any sportsperson is to live in the moment, in the zone. It can be achieved by having the right mindset, which is what sets Kohli apart from his fellow batters.
This is not to say he was not mindful of his disappointing outing from four years ago. But he did not let it distract him at Edgbaston.
In contrast, Kohli’s fellow batsmen tended to lose focus at crucial moments during the match. Perhaps the pressure got to them and affected their ability to concentrate for longer periods of time.
Murali Vijay faced 45 balls for his 20 runs in the first innings before being dismissed a little more than an hour later. In short, he got out just when he had got his eye in.
It was the same problem with opening partner Shikhar Dhawan: out for 26 from 46 balls after an 83-minute vigil, also in the first innings.
Ajinkya Rahane, too, poked around for as long as 53 minutes before being sent back to the pavilion.
Annoyingly, none of the deliveries these batsmen got out to were seemingly unplayable. Lokesh Rahul’s first-innings dismissal, for instance, was the result of an eagerness to attack from the get-go as if he was still in Indian Premier League mode.
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For all the pressure Kohli must endure as captain of the most followed cricket team in the world, he does a remarkable job staying focused on what he needs to do at any given moment. His mind rarely wavers.
Even when he played the occasional false shot at Edgbaston, he promptly got back in the zone. Yes, he rode his luck. But his positivity and a sense of purpose helped him recover from minor setbacks.
Kohli seems to go by the adage ‘inch by inch, life’s a cinch; yard by yard, life’s hard,’ which makes so much practical sense even if it reads like fortune-cookie wisdom.
It is how he builds an innings. It is why he has succeeded in every country he has played Test cricket in.
Given the experience and quality, there is still hope that others will improve as the series progresses – even if it is foolish to expect an overnight transformation. But it is all about focusing on small victories.
With Kohli having laid down the blueprint for how to score runs in England this summer, it is just a question of following it. Granted that it is easier said than done, but what other choice do they have?
Like he said at Edgbaston, there is no hiding from this game.