x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Virat Kohli deserves a little patience

To criticise him - when other Indian batsmen also failed in the first Test against Australia - is unfair and the youngster needs time to develop.

Football fans will remember Zidanes y Pavones, the Real Madrid philosophy that consisted of building a team around Galacticos, established stars signed at huge expense, and youth-team players.

It made for great copy, and also led to the eventual disintegration of a team that Vicente del Bosque could have built into a dynasty.

The Indian cricket team is quite a different beast to Fiorentino Perez's failed master plan, but you can still glimpse the hierarchy within. The batting titans follow their own drum, while everyone else is judged by a harsher set of standards.

This is not to dispute what Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman have achieved in the game.

In the 115 matches spread across 15 years during which they have played together, the trio has aggregated 26,460 runs and scored 67 centuries. As middle orders go, they are as imposing as Bruce Lee's six-pack once was.

It can be hard to thrive in the shadow of a banyan tree though, and whoever has sought a niche for themselves in the line-up following Sourav Ganguly's retirement three years ago has found that extremely difficult.

One of the unfortunate consequences of the Indian defeat in Melbourne has been the unhealthy speculation over Virat Kohli's immediate future. He made 11 and zero in the first Test, but given the manner in which his shortcomings, perceived and otherwise, have been analysed, you would think he was the only malfunctioning cog in the machine.

The facts say something else.

Tendulkar batted with confidence and panache for 73 and 32, but had uncomfortable moments against the sheer pace of James Pattinson and Peter Siddle. Rahul Dravid had a first-innings half-century, a patchy effort with little of the fluency that he showed in England a few months ago, and was bowled thrice – once off a no-ball.

Virender Sehwag too had one decent innings, albeit one where bowlers and fielders were constantly kept interested by some streaky strokeplay. Gautam Gambhir looked like he was out there giving slip-catching practice. Laxman experienced yet another MCG failure.

To single out Kohli, the least experienced of the top six, borders on the farcical. In nine Test innings, he has just 202 runs, with two half-centuries. Four of the five Tests he has played have been in conditions where the seam bowlers got considerable assistance. At a comparable stage in their careers, Tendulkar had 327 runs, Dravid 346 and Laxman 208.

Not one of them had made a century. But back then, there weren't so many TV channels competing for eyeballs, or so many pages of newsprint to fill. Players could develop organically rather than be expected to bloom like hothouse flowers.

Kohli, like Cheteshwar Pujara before him, has also suffered as a result of being asked to fill the pivotal No 6 slot.

With MS Dhoni's batting so underwhelming in overseas conditions, the man occupying that position has the responsibility of shepherding the lower order through a crisis.

It is a task that cries out for experience and nous, and one that Laxman has performed with distinction in the past.

In Sydney, India need to reassess their line-up so that Kohli is not the last man standing. If they want more impetus at No 3, Laxman can provide that.

But either he or Dravid must bat at No 6, so that the younger man is not burdened by the consequences of possible failure.

Most of all though, those that make the decisions that matter must reject knee-jerk reactions. Kohli is far from the complete package, but few have been so early in their careers. Even Tendulkar took 14 innings to score his first hundred.

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