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Tatenda Taibu's Column

Virat Kohli’s mental toughness separates him from the rest

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Virat Kohli’s mental toughness separates him from the rest
Taibu talks about Kohli's mental strength [pic via getty] A-A+

They say that cricket is a mental game. Ninety percent mental, five percent ability and five percent luck. Interestingly, many theories have been centred on this thought but one common denominator remains: the mental aspect of the game can’t be ignored.

A lot of the coaches around the world zone in on four main points – which are technical, physical, tactical and mental – to help assess an individual player’s performance and carve out the fastest way.

With the game growing and evolving over the years, we have been able to measure the technical aspects with the help of cricket loving people around the world who hunger to understand the gentlemen’s game in depth. Ways have been devised differently – like, for example, the wagon wheel as an indicator; video analysis for supplying slow motion so that nothing is missed and overlooked; bio-metrics for understanding how the body moves and performs in different situations and conditions.

The physical aspect has fitness trainers bringing the beep test and yo-yo test as the top two. Highest press ups in a minute and highest sit ups in a minute, T shuttles, pull ups, sit and reach, speed gun are some of the additions to what some trainers do in today’s modern gentlemen’s game.

The tactical aspect is like the mental facet as it needs a series of different innings, home and abroad, to determine how the player thinks and reacts to an action while in the middle. Tactical and mental almost work hand in hand and, in my view, needs a significant number of matches to measure.

So how can this most talked mental aspect be measured?

I was tired from travelling from Nagpur to Kolkata to Patna in a week, with meeting and several interviews, a lot of signatures and photos to be involved in. I was now at Dubai airport, no more bodyguards, no more hundreds of Indian fans in every corner. 

It was then when at the corner of my eye, as I was walking in the lounge, that I saw England celebrating a wicket. Young Sam Curran had taken another one; it was now two for the young man. 

“He looks competitive like his father,” I thought.

Several years back, I saw him growing up with his two brothers, always with a bat and ball and with their father, who was now coaching various teams in Zimbabwe.

As all these thoughts raced in my mind, Virat was making his way to the crease. I made myself comfortable to witness what young Sam was going to do on the first delivery to the star batsman.

Then suddenly, I remembered the last 5 test match series between the two countries in the same conditions in 2014. My thoughts moved from young Sam Curran to Virat Kohli.

“It has got to be difficult walking in to bat with a past record like that,” I thought. I watched part of the innings and had to leave it midway to board a flight. He ended up on 149 in the first innings of the first test match against England in England.

An English team with Jimmy Anderson leading the pack with lots of wickets under his belt, most of which come with the new ball. This is a man who is perhaps the best pacer in the world in English conditions.

Then there was Sam Curran, who was swinging the ball vehemently. But Virat Kohli was batting in a league where only he exists.

Now that’s one sign of a measure of mental toughness. This is a player who, four years ago, scored a total of 134 runs at an average of 13.40 in 5 tests. As a batsman, it’s easy to tune your mind to success when you have runs against an opponent before.

That’s why it seems that the ones who do well will continue to do well because they just borrow some past emotions of matches that happened before and this helps them to quickly get into the zone.

Unfortunately, the same is true on the other side of the coin. One who starts doing badly against a certain opposition or an opposition in certain conditions finds it difficult to find the right emotions to give him a push for positive drive. This becomes the story of their life unless the player is mentally tough.

Virat, with a bad record against England in England, high expectations from himself, family, fans and the cricketing world eagerly anticipating his innings, with several articles reminding him, with the burdens of captaincy, with the expectations of a top order batsman and no doubt a few witty whispers from the oppositions as he walked in and took guard, produced an innings to be remembered by cricket lovers all over the world for some time to come.

It was not one we had been accustomed to which is full of beautiful shots but one full of grit, some play and misses, some dropped chances. At one stage, he made 6 runs off 48 deliveries, however, one thing was certain, there was no giving in.

Let’s take away all these other pressures he had to stride against and zoom in to a particular stage of the innings. India were around 105 for 5.

That alone needs a mentally strong plus a tactical player who will map a way to approach an innings from a situation like this while still not settled in. How he rode the tough waves until the time he took full control was a display of mental toughness.

And that is what separates great players from the good ones.

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