In the latest ICC Review, Australia legend Ricky Ponting assessed Virat Kohli’s comeback against Pakistan in the Asia Cup 2022 and his battles with form and mental health, and the axing of Rishabh Pant from the India XI.
After a month-long break from cricket Kohli returned to the field with some semblance of form, scoring an important 35 against India’s arch-rivals Pakistan.
It proved to be an important knock as India beat Pakistan by five wickets in a thriller.
Kohli was far from his devastating best, but the 34-year-old showed glimpses of finding his touch with the bat during his knock in India's chase against Pakistan.
Ponting, who has been a vocal supporter of the former India captain in previous editions of The ICC Review, was pleased to see Kohli back among the runs during the high-stakes encounter.
"First and foremost, great to see him back in the runs," Ponting said. “No surprise that he did it in a run chase. We’ve always known that about him. His record suggests he is better when his team is chasing runs.
"When I saw his runs and then I've read on social media over the last few days, it sounded like he found himself in quite a dark place. Like a lot of us men, he wasn’t willing to talk about it and share it.
“It sounds like when he has started to share, started to talk, it might have just freed him up a bit and he started to feel better about himself again.
"I just hope that we see him back at his best and in the World Cup. I’d rather see Virat come out here (in Australia) and be one of the leading players in the tournament, but just make sure he doesn’t score many runs against Australia when they play!"
Mental health battle
The comments Ponting was alluding to related to a candid chat Kohli had with Star Sports in the lead-up to the India-Pakistan clash, when he opened up about his mental health battle and how he was “faking intensity” in his struggles to cope with it.
Ponting, when asked if he had faced anything similar, said there were parallels with his own struggles for form during the latter years of his career.
"I don’t think I can quite relate to the ‘intensity’ (comment)," said Ponting. "When things aren’t well and you’re not scoring the runs you used to scoring, the game all of a sudden seems to be too hard.
"I sort of faced it in the last couple of years of my career where my career tapered off quite quickly … It was almost, the harder I work, the worse I got.
“I was so focused and conscious on being perfect and doing things exactly right, thinking I had to do that to get the best out of myself, but all I was doing was putting pressure on myself and not letting myself play the game the way I always played it. I reckon it might be a bit of that creeping in with Virat as well.
"It’s just human nature when things aren’t going the way you want, you push harder, you try harder, and the harder you try the harder it gets.”
Ponting believes it was important Kohli took an extended break to reset himself.
"One thing I’ll say about, as international cricketers, and probably more so with the modern Indian players, the amount of cricket they’re actually playing internationally and the IPL, you can quite often bluff yourself that you’re feeling good and that you are fresh, that you have got plenty of energy.
“Because when you’re tired, you have to tell yourself that, because you’ve got to get up and play again the next day. It’s not until you have stopped and just have a few days off, or you have a week away, that you realise how tired physically and mentally you are.
"For someone like Virat, it was no good having a week off. The fact that he has taken that month off to get away, to sort of regather his thoughts, get himself back where we think he is in the right space mentally … there’s lots of good signs there."
The Pant shock
Against Pakistan, the Indian management opted for the veteran Dinesh Karthik in the XI over Rishabh Pant, a decision that shocked some.
Ponting, who has coached the Pant-led Delhi Capitals in the IPL, counted himself among those in the ‘surprised’ corner.
"I was really surprised. To be honest, there was some talk about it, once again on social media channels going into the game, which way would they go because I think they needed the sixth bowling option," said Ponting.
"He (Pant) is honestly one of my favourites having worked with him for a long time now at the Delhi Capitals, and obviously being a franchise captain. I have a bit more of a soft spot for him than most, but for all the right reasons as well because I know his character.
“I know his skillset, I know how much he wants to do well and how much he wants to win games - whether it's for Delhi Capitals or for India.”
Despite the setback, Ponting believes it’s a matter of time before Pant fights his way back into the India XI.
“I don't think it'll be too long before we see him back into that team,” he said.
“But once again, when you look at the balance that India had though in that side, you know it's hard to leave Karthik out because Dinesh is in career-best form, and by a long way.
“This is where I'll come back again, the Indian selectors have got some big decision to make, tough decisions to make. When you're leaving someone out of the star quality of Rishabh Pant, you know that you have got a good side."
T20WC 2022 Fixtures
Click here to see the full fixtures for the ICC Men's T20 World Cup 2022.