In his third straight ODI, Virat Kohli has been out clean bowled and every time the ball has squeezed through the gap between bat and pad. It started with Aussie pacer Josh Hazlewood getting the Indian captain with a yorker-length ball in the final ODI at Bengaluru last month. The death rattle has continued to ring in Kohli’s ears in the first two ODIs of the New Zealand series. First leggie Ish Sodhi got him with a googly in Hamilton and today in the second ODI, Tim Southee dismissed him with a scrambled seam off-cutter.
So does this mean that the world has finally discovered a fatal flaw in Kohli’s water-tight batting technique? That’s going too far ahead. But these last few Kohli dismissals have given the bowlers – desperate to stop world cricket’s manic run-making machine – a plan.
In the days to come, in pre-match team meetings, captains and coaches will now be asking their bowlers to focus on the stumps when Kohli is batting. The old plot to entice Kohli with the away- swinger in the early part of the inning can be shelved for now.
Interestingly, twice in these three innings, Kohli has got out while attempting to play his most productive shot – the flick to mid-wicket. In the past year or so, such is Kohli’s control over this shot that he has consistently managed to hit balls pitched outside the off-stump to the leg side without much effort. Such is his mastery that he has made this one-time risky shot into a percentage stroke.
Early in his innings, when he is settling down, Kohli regularly brings out that shot to frustrate the opposition. Bowlers who concentrate on the fourth or fifth stump with a packed off-side field often throw up their hands when Kohli manages to send the ball in the arc between mid-wicket and long-on. It’s a tough shot but not for Kohli.
When fashioning his magical flick, his bat comes down straight as if he was hitting the ball towards long on. This eliminates the risk. But when the bat meets the ball, his wrists go in a frenzy. That last-minute brutal twirl sends the ball racing to the leg-side.
The Hazlewood dismissal came late into the innings. India had virtually won the game and Kohli was in his 80s. The Aussie had darted in a full-length ball that ideally needed to be played with a straight bat but Kohli, in extraordinary touch in that game, tried to play the flick. He missed the line and got bowled. There was nothing to read between the lines, no one gave it a second thought. It was merely a batsman getting out late in the innings when the result was already decided.
In the first ODI at Hamilton too, there was no major discussion about the Kohli clean bowled. It wasn’t the flick that did him in. Against Sodhi, it was the forward defensive push to the off-side – easily cricket’s safest shot. While playing for the leg-spinner, he got beaten by the googly. It was nothing but a rare error of judgment, a momentary brain freeze. It is unlikely Sodhi, or other leg-spinners will see that as the sucker ball that would make Kohli their bunny.
However, the Southee dismissal has intrigue. It can give pacers ideas. The Kiwi pacer cut down the pace, pitched the ball outside off and made it to spin towards the stumps. Kohli, seeing the vacant mid-wicket, wanted to work the ball towards the leg-side. But he was foxed by the length that was held back. He was also beaten by the change of pace. The bat came down straight but the wrists flicked a bit early. The ball made its way between the bat and pad and to the stumps.
Bowlers around the world will be watching that Southee ball in the loop.
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