It’s been a while since Virat Kohli scored a hundred. 52 innings, including those in the IPL, and 478 days to be precise. It’s a period that has had an extended pandemic break in-between but not ever before has Kohli gone so long without a century. So what’s been holding the modern-day batting maestro back?
If you’re Kohli, you are judged by the great standards you’ve set for yourself. Anything less than a century is considered a failure. That makes us, the people outside, vulnerable of looking past the fine contributions he has made. Virat Kohli has a Test average of 43.96 and an ODI average of 43.33 since his last international century. Those are good numbers, just not Kohli-esque. Yet, within this phase, something has been clearly off about his batting.
When Kohli is at his absolute best, he is not just consistent in the way the runs flow but also how he shapes up at the crease. There have been days in the recent past where he has looked a tad hurried, anxious earlier in his innings and at the same time, days where he has looked in supreme touch and played a near-perfect knock. His last two innings in Ahmedabad and his two second-innings efforts in Chennai against England are fine examples in either category. These knocks make this phase quite curious and unique.
It’s not that there is any major flaw in Kohli’s batting which the bowlers have exposed. Not at all. Kohli has been out bowled 8 times and LBW just 3 times since his last century. There have been, however, 21 caught dismissals, including 16 by fielders other than the wicketkeeper, with a healthy share in Tests, ODIs and T20Is. Perhaps Kohli is trying to dominate a lot more than sticking to the process, just going through the drills and getting set for a long haul. When at his best, he cuts down risks completely – he shelved the cover-drive in the first innings of the recent Adelaide Test, for example – and bats to the plan deep into his innings, even in T20 cricket.
The ‘trying to dominate’ bit could be a hypothesis, of course. Because in the last year’s IPL, he clearly batted at a more sedate tempo. Kohli averaged 42.36 from 15 innings in IPL 2020 but had a strike-rate of just 121.35 and managed only 23 fours and 11 sixes from 384 balls faced. In IPL 2019, he averaged 33.14 with a strike-rate of 141.46 and hit 46 fours and 13 sixes. One can argue that teams never really let Kohli get the big shots going in UAE or that the pandemic break took its toll. But only so long could a range of opposition stop a batsman of such calibre, you would think?
Neither it is that the age is catching up with Kohli, who now has some slowed down reflexes. He is only 32 and one of the fittest athletes in the sporting world, unarguably the best in cricket. So it’s all inexplicable, really. Perhaps the game is just being a leveler to the man who has conquered most of the challenges posed to him. Perhaps he just needs to let it go by rather than get frustrated at any stage and wait for the next peak that will definitely come. He is too good a batsman not to have another of those periods where he wears the cloak of invincibility.
“It is part of the whole journey of international cricket,” he said after the first T20I against England. “When you have played for that long you will have your ups and down, you have to accept that as a batsman. On your day you will probably do much more for the team. At the end of the day you have to keep true to your intent and plan as a batsman, understand sometimes the bowling team will come out and execute their plans better. For me, it is about going out there and trying to be as positive as I can.”
An individual very self-aware and confident, Kohli has also always been a very loyal servant of the game. His hardwork and dedication to the craft have seen him constantly improve along the way. We can rest assured this is the phase where he is working even harder at his game. Cricket has always been a kind sport to such people. It never lets you down. Perhaps Kohli just needs to bide this phase through and wait till cricket smiles back at him again. It won’t be long before it does.