Virat Kohli needs a level down

You don’t win chess by moving every piece only forward.

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Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli. (Photo Source: IPL/BCCI)

Bhai, khatam ho chuka hai yeh, maan le (Brotherman, he’s finished, accept it), texted one of my old friends after Virat Kohli found a new manner to get dismissed, against the Rajasthan Royals on Tuesday (April 26) night, extending an agonising rut that has lasted for way longer than anyone could have even mildly imagined.

Much like many, I have been a Kohli admirer for a long time. But as it stands, what yours truly has also been in the last two years is a Kohli advocate. It is an admission I hate making, not because there’s anything even remotely shameful about defending arguably one of the best the sport has ever seen, but because there has arisen a need to defend that very best. Who would have thought such a time will arrive?

Until 2019, you hardly had to advocate for him. He was unstoppable. There were no arguments about or around him, or the cricket he played, or the technique and etcetera, etcetera. So, what would you have advocated for? Nothing. But it’s 2019 no more and things have changed. If every piece of literature penned about the Kohli slump since the start of the Kohli slump were to be compiled, it will defeat the thickest book in the world by some distance.

The friend abovementioned has himself been quite an admirer of the man in question. Of course, that message was a banter, a notoriously snide remark to rile his friend up, an attempt intentioned to awaken the advocate that is usually only one Kohli criticism away from being awakened.

Aware of his mischief, I held myself back fleetingly before inevitably indulging in a (healthy) debate for the nth time. In between the conversation, a striking realization was how only until two years ago, no one could have even jocularly dared to say what my friend said (back to the first line in case you need a reminder.)

A key takeaway from that armchair-expert discourse was how being Kohli is a problem for Kohli. Harsha Bhogle had once uttered for the great Sachin Tendulkar, “One of the problems you face being Tendulkar is that you are always compared with Tendulkar.” I borrow from Bhogle: one of the problems you face being Kohli is that you are always compared with Kohli.

It cannot be denied that Kohli is in the same problematic territory. Only the Tendulkars and Kohlis are ever able to charter it, and whoever does, does it only because other mortals are no match to them. But being in there is as much an honour as it is a problem, for what comes inseparably attached with all the adulation and reverence is the asphyxiating pressure, infinite expectations and the unbelievably low allowance for failure.


As ironic as it may sound, Kohli’s stature is stinging him. Let’s put this into perspective: unlike others, Kohli has not got the axe despite the continual lack of delivery for over two years now. Had it been anyone else, s/he would have been dropped by now, or in fact much earlier.

What is going on with Kohli is nothing unseen or unheard of. From the best to the not-so, every professional endures such a slump in their life at least once, if not more. The problem with Kohli is the unrealized blockade of not being able to level down. And maybe that is what is needed for him at the moment. No sports professional ever likes to swallow that punitive pill, but at times, doing what you don’t like opens the doors to get back to doing what you like.

When you fail a video game at high difficulty mode, you drop down to easy or moderate, keep at it, practice and practice more, before switching to the standard of difficulty you failed to survive earlier. After playing the game at an easier level, you realise that the top-most difficulty level does not seem as difficult as it once did, and perhaps on the next try, you cross the level irrespective of the level of difficulty.

In cricketing parlance, international cricket, or even the IPL to an extent, is the hardest level of the game, and that too with a caveat: unlike a programmed game, the qualities and skills of your adversaries in the real-life game keep evolving. You could have reached many a checkpoint, but it could occur any time that the game you mastered suddenly transforms into one that you just cannot keep up with. It is in that sense that the need to level down in the real-life game increases all the more.

What Kohli is being expected to do is to restore his prolific self while competing at the highest level, without exercising the available option of going a level down. To level down is no demotion, to step back no wrong. You don’t win chess by moving every piece only forward, and much like what is happening with Kohli is not unseen or unheard of, going a level down is not either.

Two of Kohli’s long-time teammates in the national team, Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara, were asked to do exactly that not too long ago after an unreasonably long lean patch. Euphuisms aside, Rahane and Pujara were dropped indeed, but perhaps Kohli’s reputation would not let such fate befall upon him ever. Why not, then, take that decision voluntarily, go back to the domestic grind and return stronger?

At the moment, it is not working. And quite surely, everyone wants Kohli to do whatever it takes to get back to his run-scoring best. Even if it means a voluntary level down. As for the answer to my friend: nope, he is far from over.

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