Eng vs Ind 2nd ODI – Rohit Sharma bats for Virat Kohli again amid ‘slump’ talk

Kyun ho rahi hain, yaar. Matlab mujhe samajh mein nahin aata, bhai. (Why is this discussion happening. I can’t understand this)”

India’s captain Rohit Sharma put up a bemused expression just as a journalist had started a question on Virat Kohli.

Kohli’s form in the last few years has become a national debate, with some, including former India captain Kapil Dev, wondering why the senior India batter could not be dropped. The debate will only carry on after Kohli, on Thursday, once again failed to convert what was looking a good, solid start before he pushed at a delivery he could have left alone when on 16.

Having sat out the first ODI on Tuesday due to a groin strain, Kohli this morning took a sort of a batting fitness test before giving a firm nod to India coach Rahul Dravid about him being ready. There would have been a few other things weighing on his mind. About an hour before India arrived at Lord’s, the BCCI released the Indian squad for the T20 series in West Indies starting at the end of July. One of the names missing was that of Kohli. The BCCI did not mention if he was rested or dropped due to being out of form.

Kohli walked in as early as the third over. The first runs were a straight driven four. Sensing a fuller length, he lunged into the stroke, met the ball with a full face and dispatched it to the boundary. Kohli was off the mark. Off the previous seven balls he had faced, the first one was a leg bye followed by a maiden over. On the first ball of that over, from David Willey, Kohli had pushed his bat dangerously against an angling away delivery and was lucky to not nick it. But in the torrid form that he has been in, Kohli repeated the same mistake against the same bowler a little later and paid the price, walking back dejected.

Asked if Kohli needed the support of the team in this difficult phase or whether he should be left alone on the back of such a storied and successful career, Rohit felt there was no need for a debate in the first place.

“He [Kohli] has played so many matches. He is playing from so many years. He is such a great batsman so he does not need reassurance,” Rohit said at the media briefing. “I pointed this in my last press conference, too: form goes up and down, that is part and parcel of any cricketer’s career. So, a player like him, who has played for so many years, who has made so many runs, who has won so many matches, for him, he only needs one or two good innings (to bounce back). That is my thinking and I am sure all those who follow cricket will think similarly.”

This is the second time Rohit has backed Kohli during the white-ball segment of the England tour. Rohit agreed that Kohli was going through a “slump” but said the Indian team management still had firm belief in him.

“We do have chats about about this topic, but we should also understand and think when we talk about such things. We have seen performance of all players goes up and down, but the quality of the player never gets worse. That we all should keep in mind. That is very important. Yaar, matlab, bande ne itne run banaya hain (he has made so many runs), check his average, how many hundreds he has made, he has (vast) experience of doing that. There is a slump in every player’s life. Even in the personal life it comes.”

It was not just Rohit, but even his opposite number, Jos Buttler, who felt Kohli was “due” a big innings.

“I suppose in a little way it’s quite refreshing for the rest of us that he [Kohli] is human and he can have a couple of low scores as well, but look he has been one of the best players, if not the best player in ODI cricket in the world,” Buttler said.

“So he’s been a fantastic player for so many years and all batters, it just proves, go through runs of form where they don’t perform as well as they can do sometimes, but certainly as an opposition captain, you know a player of that class is always due, so you’re hoping that it doesn’t come against us.”

And just like Rohit, Buttler, too, wondered why Kohli was facing criticism in India over his form. “Yeah, incredibly surprised, as I said, his record speaks for himself. The matches he’s won for India and yeah, why would you question that?”

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo

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