For so long has Virat Kohli been the man who could do no wrong that when things wobble for India there seems to be a cosmic disturbance, a rearrangement of the order of things.
He last made a Test century in November 2019. He has not scored a hundred for India in any format for 51 innings.
After a remarkable win over England at Lord’s, India were thumped by an innings inside four days at Emerald Headingley.
A thrilling series – poised at 1-1 with two Tests to play – resumes at the Kia Oval on Thursday and Kohli holds the key to whether India can bounce back.
What has gone wrong with Kohli’s batting?
Against swing bowlers, he seems to be suffering from ‘off-stumpitis’ – uncertainty where his off stump is.
He is playing at deliveries he should leave alone. Bowlers have played on his ego, challenging him to play the ball – and Kohli has obliged, prodding hesitantly to edge behind.
Batsmen on either side of him in the order, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane – both with greater patience and no great urgency to establish who is boss – have got out in similar fashion in England, causing a middle-order crisis.
Since the 2018 tour of England when he did not get out to James Anderson once while making two centuries and a 97, Kohli has been conscious of playing close to his body and meeting the ball under his eye.
On this tour he has been leaving the outswingers well but has got himself into a tangle over the ball that threatens to leave him but holds it line.
Kohli has the equipment – mental and physical – to sort it out. But with back-to-back Tests to come, the pressure is on to get his batting right, his team selection right and his tactics right.
Certain captains, such as England’s Mike Brearley and India’s Tiger Pataudi (late in his career), rose above personal batting failures to lead their sides to victories.
For Kohli to be spoken of in the same breath – India are chasing a first series win in England since 2007 – he must show himself to be as inspirational in defeat as in victory; when things are going wrong as well as when his team are on top.