It almost felt like déjà vu. An Australian left-arm fast bowler called Mitchell steaming in with the second new-ball and producing an outside-edge off Virat Kohli’s bat. Johnson had done it at the MCG. Now it was Starc’s turn. The other Mitchell, the more snarly one, had pitched the ball slightly closer to Kohli’s off-stump and half-yard shorter. Starc had gone wider and fuller. But he still had the Indian Test captain chasing it. At the MCG, Shane Watson had dropped the catch bending low to his left. Here it was Steve Smith’s turn to give Kohli a reprieve, failing to time his jump perfectly to snare a fast-rising ball that flew in his direction. Unlike Johnson, Starc didn’t launch into a rant. He instead stood with his hands on the knees.
Kohli had by then crossed across for a single. It was a loose shot. But the only reason the right-hander was even able to reach the ball was because of his position in the crease, or just outside it, to be precise. It’s a strategy that Kohli has employed on this tour. Standing outside his designated area to the Australian pacers. It’s worked wonders for him so far.
Two balls later, at the other end, Kohli proved just why it’s been the case. It was a length ball from Ryan Harris, but Kohli was ready to pounce on it and caressed it through the cover region for four to push to 66. It was his fifth boundary already towards the square off-side. It was his 24th on tour that he had managed with one of his three types of cover-drives. The first with the flourish with the wrist at the last moment to generate that slingshot effect, the connoisseur’s delight one with body leaning into the shot and the bat coming down like a rapier and the third where he starts off getting into position to play the second type but then opens the face of the bat late to enhance his placement.
One of the main reasons behind his success with that shot has been the manner in which he’s used the crease. It’s generally the bowlers who pre-empt what the batsman’s planning to do and scupper his plans. Kohli has turned the tables on them. He had even explained the strategy after scoring his third century in the last month at the MCG.
“In international cricket, most bowlers bowl the fourth stump line and on a good length spot. I am confident enough that I am not worried about their pace and bounce. I can stand in front of the crease and try not to let the bowler bowl too much in the same spot because that’s called the good length spot. If you disrupt that then the bowler has to think about other things, which is what you want,” he had said.
What he meant was that by not staying put in his crease, he was always coming at the bowler, and asking him to change his length. He was forcing him to shorten the length, which would then allow him to leave balls more comfortably. But when they did still pitch it on the length, he was ready to cover the threat of any late movement, and primed to drive. And so far the Australians have found no answer to that.
And in addition to using his crease, he’s also started taking an off-stump guard. “You know when you play with your bat more and not like the bowler, see those stumps and the ball going close parts of the stumps. If you drive a few on the rise and the bowler really doesn’t know what length to bowl which as a batsman you want to do out there. It’s worked for me,” he had explained at the MCG.
On Thursday, he went onto become only the second man in the history of Indian cricket has scored four hundreds in a Test series away. It was by far his calmest innings, where he didn’t get involved in any verbals with the Aussies. It was also probably his best knock because he got the better of Harris, finally.
While his strike-rate against Australia’s finest was close to 40 at Adelaide and Melbourne, here he scored freely of him, scoring at a rate of 70. He also hit him for five fours, and by doing so at SCG, Kohli had conquered yet another major Aussie challenge — the Harris problem-in what has been a watershed tour for the new Test captain.