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Sunday, April 11, 2021

Don’t worry about Virat Kohli

Skipper hasn’t scored a ton in a long time, but his wristy play in recent games hints that a big one is round the corner.

Written by Sriram Veera | Mumbai |
Updated: March 14, 2021 10:37:44 pm
India's captain Virat Kohli last Test ton came in November 2019 (Source: Reuters)

There has been some kerfuffle about Virat Kohli’s form. Apparently, he is struggling to get hundreds. His last Test ton came in November 2019, and the last one in ODIs came in August that year.

But there’s no reason to fret too much as Kohli has been not just in great touch in nearly all the recent games, but scoring pretty consistently. Even in the ODI and T20 series in Australia, he racked up a couple of 80s. But it’s to his last few Tests that one has to zoom into to see how solid he has been.

It’s the wrists that reveal the health of Kohli’s batting. At times, he even wrists his extra-cover drives, especially against spinners, and his straight drives too have a lot of wrist in them. In the last few Tests, his wrists have kicked in a lot in his defensive game.

Like in the first innings of the pink-ball game in Adelaide, where Kohli was India’s most serene and solid batsman. He was largely hassle-free against seamers, moving forward and back precisely, and his game against Nathan Lyon stood out for the clarity of thought.

The angle at which the bat comes down helps and Kohli also trusts his hands to flow well ahead of his pads. Combined with his wristy bottom hand, it allowed him to work the ball to midwicket. Another factor is that Kohli rarely allows himself to be caught on the crease.

Stalwarts impressed

England legend Graham Gooch raved about Kohli’s back-foot play in the second Test in Chennai, where he made a splendid 62 in 200 minutes of masterful defensive play.

“Just how wonderfully he played off the back foot! The most important element is to have to the ability to play spin off the back foot. All good players do that. Did you see how he tackled Moeen Ali from an off-stump guard and combined it with his back-foot play? Against [left-arm spinner] Jack Leach too, he pressed back often,” Gooch told this newspaper.

It’s the wrists that allow Kohli to trust his back-foot play. Even as the ball is climbing, he makes his own length by pressing back, and then if the ball turns sharply towards his hips, he rides the bounce with his wrists. “Some batsmen can be all arms in their defensive play, they push too hard and you can’t do that,” Gooch says. Sunil Gavaskar too was enamoured by Kohi’s back-foot play in the same knock. “Back foot means you are actively pressing back, gaining time and distance to manoeuvre the ball by creating your own length. Not just standing back. Kohli did that. He used the depth of the crease absolutely brilliantly,” Gavaskar told this newspaper.

At home on both feet

In Adelaide, Kohli showed impeccable control on the front foot to spin, and did so off the back foot in Chennai. In the third Test at Motera, Kohli again displayed his back-foot play.

In the last Test, he again fell feeling for the ball on a lifter. Even here, the way his wrists came into play was revealing. It was a nasty delivery that kicked up from short of a length and as his hands started to betray him by moving towards the projectile away from the body, Kohli made one last-instant attempt to salvage the wreckage with his wrists. He took the bottom hand off and tried to flip the top hand up and over with a wristy snap, but the ball was too quick and rising for him to keep it down.

The only times Kohli disappointed was when he got slightly ahead of himself, with a predetermination to attack. The first came in the second innings in Adelaide during the 36 all out. Seeing the procession of wickets, he decided to be positive but ended up chasing a wide one from Pat Cummins to edge it to gully. The second came in the first innings of the second Test in Chennai when he seemingly pre-decided to attack from the start and fell trying an expansive cover drive against the turn to a ball from Moeen that darted in from the rough.


The wrists have it

In the book, Virat Kohli, the making of a champion, the authors write about a fascinating phase when he was about 11 involving his childhood coach Rajkumar Sharma. “It was for playing the flick shot that I scolded him the most. This was because he used to play the flick early in his innings without pulling his leg towards the leg stump. The boy was trying to flick balls from the middle-and off-stump. He was getting out LBW a lot in the early days, but mastered that shot,” coach Sharma is quoted in the book. The flick shot from middle stump was banned for a month when they worked on feet movement. “He worked really hard on it. Earlier, he was not going forward full length to approach the ball, but slowly that was changing too.”

Once Kohli ironed out the flaw, the flick shots started to flow as the wrists kept whipping the balls, something he continues to do to this day.

When Kohli’s wrists are kicking into his shots, all is well with his world. Considering there has been lots of wristy play in the Tests, it won’t be a surprise if he makes England bleed runs in white-ball cricket.

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