Updated: March 1, 2020 9:15:43 am
Unlike Trent Boult, his trusted accomplice, Tim Southee hardly does theatre. Boult, in his follow-through, is almost within a touching distance of the batsman; he appeals vociferously, celebrates wickets with vein-popping fist-pumps. Contrastingly, Southee’s follow-through is standard, his appeals are apologetic and celebrations not over the board.
Like when he nailed Virat Kohli in front of the wicket with a supreme exhibition of cerebral bowling. The appeal was a quiet query, the celebrations that followed were not frantic. A sheepish grin, handshakes, and reluctant hugs. As Boult himself put it cheekily: “He needs to take a course on celebrating wickets from me.”
Perhaps, he didn’t animatedly celebrate Kohli’s dismissal because he has gotten so accustomed to dismissing one of the most-prized scalps in the world that it has ceased to excite him. A certain kind of boredom has set in. With the latest instance, he has ejected him 10 times across formats, the most success any bowler has enjoyed against the Indian skipper. Thrice in Tests, six times in ODIs and once in T20Is. So much so that he could legitimately claim that he’s Kohli’s kryptonite, he could rightfully brag that he knows how to outwit Kohli.
Southee-Kohli showdowns are not as much as about raw thrill as it’s about the battle of wits. Southee trying to fasten the noose around his neck while the latter trying to wriggle out of it.
The latest dismissal was a classic instance. Before that, as soon as Kohli strode in, Kane Williamson replaced Neil Wagner, who had bowled just an over, with Southee. It was a sharp psychological move. For, the more you get a batsman out the more it becomes psychological. A batsman starts thinking about it and starts making something of it in his head. The bowler looks forward to bowling at them, he’s confident when he is running in, he knows that the previous instances is in the back of the batsman’s mind.
So he wants to build the pressure, make sure the batsman knows exactly what is going on, really making it known that they feel they have got the wood on them. Most of the great batsmen have had their bogeymen: Glenn McGrath was Brian Lara’s (14); Derek Underwood was Sunil Gavaskar’s (12).
But the familiarity can also backfire, for the batsman knows the pattern of the bowler. It’s where Southee differs. It’s his out-swinger that has troubled Kohli the most, the default method most bowlers employ against him when he’s fresh at the crease. so he begins with an in-swinger that’s too leg-sidish. He quickly corrects the line, and starts peppering him with his stock-ball, the out-swinger. The next five balls are full balls, swinging away, outside the off-stump, tempting Kohli to drive through covers, usually unmanned. Kohli sternly resists, as lunch is nearing. In the second of the spell, he begins with an in-swinger on off-stump that he check-drives to mid-off. He slips one further up, which Kohli stoutly defends.
Southee’s intentions are clear — suck him into driving and pull the length back a bit, he might nick one behind.
Instead, he makes the ball duck back into him, but is pitched outside the off-stump to convey Kohli an impression that he’s homing in on his outside edge.
The sequence of deliveries might have been playing in the back of his head, he comes prepared for that. But instead, Southee hits his nip-backer on the perfect length and line, good length on off-stump. Though Kohli spots it, he is too late to make the requisite adjustment and ends up playing a feeble, nothing stroke. Neither a full defensive shot nor a full-blooded drive. It was reminiscent of his dismissal at Eden Park in the second ODI, where again he was beautifully set up — a few out-swingers and wider deliveries to get the skipper shuffling, before darting in an off-cutter that glanced his front pad onto the stumps.
Kohli sought an incredulous review, but what he saw on the screen might have rankled him more, beaten again by his serial killer. But an understated one, seldom hyped up or talked about as James Anderson, his tormentor in England. Maybe, it’s because most of his Kohli dismissals have come in the shorter versions that people associate it with plain coincidence.
Then that’s how all worthy duels begin. It might simply be that he has bowled a couple of cracking balls or that a batsman has played a bad shot or two. Sometimes it can happen without either of them really noticing. But then it grows on the batsman, and the bowler automatically gets into the business. Suddenly, the batsman starts thinking on the grounds of a technical flaw. Suddenly, he’s weighed down by the burden of the past.
But ten times can’t be happenstance. It might not be a technical flaw necessarily, but it definitely is morphing into a psychological scar.
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