Video Credit: Gulf News

Dubai: Indian ace Virat Kohli has been hitting the headlines again for the wrong reasons. The ace Indian batter, in recent times, has been criticised for his slow strike rate in Twenty20 matches.

However, India’s highest T20 scorer showed his calibre with a quick-fire knock in the Indian Premier League Season 17 match game against Punjab Kings, sending a clear message to the selectors.

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Paddy Upton, who helped Kohli during a lean patch in 2022, feels the former Indian captain is putting a big price on his wicket and preventing him from realising his true potential.

Paddy Upton

“Kohli’s mindset has been as good as you could possibly want. He is No 1. Incredibly confident in his game. The reason is, he trains and prepares physically, technically and tactically better than probably no one else in the world at the moment. He knows his game and knows what he needs to do. He’s got supreme confidence and is a big-match player,” Upton told Gulf News video chat “Straight Bat”.

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Royal Challengers Bangalore's Virat Kohli plays a shot during the Indian Premier League Season 17. The ace batter is trying to prove his critics wrong by changing his approach.

Kohli guilty of putting value to wicket

But Upton feels Kohli should increase his strike rate, and he can do that. “The one thing he might need to do going forward in T20 cricket is improve his strike rate. Virat has possibly been guilty in the past of valuing his wicket a little bit too much or looking to bat deeper. Once you’ve powerful seven players around you, that frees up someone like Virat to play a lot more freely. Then he doesn’t need to carry on that longer. Virat has got the game to strike at the rate of 160. He generally will strike at around 120-130 early in the innings and then maybe go up to 140-150. He has the ability to start at 130-140 and get up to 150-160 quickly.”

The talisman scored an unbeaten 83 off 59 balls on a difficult wicket to guide Royal Challengers Bengaluru to a  challenging  182 for six against Kolkata Knight Riders at their second home contest. Kohli now leads the Orange Cap table with 181 in three matches.

Upton, now associated with the Indian hockey team, says maintaining the right mental space is important for players and team management is the key to winning the title in the IPL tournament, played over 74 matches. Much of that boils down to leadership.

“I look at a relatively balanced team, not the most balanced team. A team that’s got a leader who’s going to keep the team together over the course of the season, a coach who’s going to work really well with that captain and creates just a really good environment will be the team in the best possible space towards the end,” Upton said.

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Virat Kohli has the ability to score at the rate of 160 but due to his decision to bat longer, the star batter tries to play it safe, at least at the start. Image Credit: AFP

“It’s got to be the leadership that holds them together, which will play a big part in making the young players feel very comfortable and getting the best out of them. It’s critical to get the young Indian players into a good, confident mental space to recover from mistakes they will make and still deliver for the team in the next game. Once the youngsters deliver, they take pressure off the top players, and you start getting the energy or the combination that actually wins IPLs as opposed to statistics and track records of players. It is the mental space maintained over the two months [that will make the difference],” he added.

Another talking point in IPL this season is the change in the leadership of the five-time champions Mumbai Indians, who have suffered in the past three seasons. One reason was that their main pick in the previous auction, Jofra Archer, could not play due to injuries. Upton feels the change in leadership [with Hardik Pandya at the helm] will have a significant impact on the Mumbai Indians.

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The presence of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and a stable team environment has made new captain Ruturaj Gaikwad's start very easy. Image Credit: ANI

Leadership has a significant imact

“A change in a significant leadership position always has a significant impact. That said, if you have a team that’s got a really solid coach and a solid set of senior players and you get a new captain, then it is a lot easier. But if you have a situation where you don’t have a very strong leader or coach, or you don’t have a group of senior players, and you get a new leader in, then it brings in very different winds into the sails of that ship,” he added. “Mumbai Indians have got a fairly new coach, and Mark Boucher is not established, and you’ve got a new captain that’s very disruptive.”

However, Upton feels Pandya has the skills and qualities to turn things around for Mumbai Indians. “There is going to be that much more pressure on Hardik. But I’ve done some work with him, and I’m really impressed with his outlook on life, leadership, and teamwork. He’s a very team-oriented captain. He’s one of the few captains who gives all credit to the team, and when the team does badly and he does well, he still takes all the blame on himself. His leadership skills and ability to shoulder responsibility are quite unique and exceptional. And it’s great to be tested to the next level,” Upton added.

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Hardik Pandya has a big shoes to fill in after replacing Rohit Sharma (left). However, the all-rounder has what it takes to change the course of the ship. Image Credit: AFP

Mental energies key to winning title

“He’s taken over the leadership from one of Mumbai’s favourite IPL sons, Rohit Sharma, so that’s really difficult. It’s not just about dealing with the pressure between bat and ball; when you’re in a leadership position, it is about the fan expectations, sponsor expectations, and your own expectations. The sooner you can handle it, the smoother the journey will be.”

While the players and captains handle the ups and downs of the tournament, especially the initial phase, when it is all about getting the right balance, maintaining momentum and mental attitude in such a gruelling and punishing schedule is not going to be easy. It will be difficult to keep the batteries charged for the duration of the tournament.

“When you have a team that loses two or three games in a row, that really rips the hearts to a degree, and if you have a team where you have owners that get very upset and put more pressure on players and the team, that further depletes the mental or emotional energy. When you’ve got a coach, a captain, and owners who understand that it’s OK to lose two or three games in a row and manage the environment, it counts a huge amount to what happens at the end of the tournament. This stuff never appears on the scoreboard,” he said.