India vs South Africa: Virat Kohli’s emphatic ground control in T20Is
Match after match, Virat Kohli has been scoring runs and helping India win by adhering to this problem-free philosophy: pierce gaps, run hard between wickets and keep aerial shots to a risk-free minimum.
Only, this is Twenty20 where the batsman’s tendency to hit unorthodox shots is the new normal. With boundary ropes brought in, featherbeds rolled out and bowlers penalised for the slightest infraction, the temptation to not play by the book is understandable. Kohli’s greatness lies in his ability to achieve results bypassing the apparent insanity of T20 batsmanship.
Right now, Kohli is on top of the heap without being flashy. He scores a fifty in almost every third match. For perspective, consider this: next best Rohit Sharma has 21 fifties in 97 matches.
Only Babar Azam has a fifty-plus average (54.21) apart from Kohli (50.85) in T20 Internationals. But then, Kohli has maintained this average over 71 matches as opposed to 30 T20Is played by Azam. You also won’t find a more prolific boundary hitter than Kohli who has 235 fours to his name. Sharma is 20 shy of Kohli in this department but has racked up almost twice as many sixes (109 to 58).
Kohli’s numbers in a winning cause are more enviable and assuring. Among batsmen to have featured in at least 30 T20I victories, Kohli has the best average of 61.92 but the lowest strike rate. He hasn’t hit a century so far but has 16 fifties contributing to wins, the highest among the top 10. Barring Sharma, who has the 10th best average in a winning cause, Kohli has hit the highest number of boundaries contributing to victories but the third lowest number of sixes.
It underlines Kohli’s approach in Twenty20. Scoring can be easier in Tests, considering the vast spaces left for batsmen to exploit when captains set one-sided fields. The difficulty in T20 multiplies with the cap on overs and the field being spread. Barely 10 deliveries can be given to a T20 batsman to get his eye in. Yet, Kohli rarely changes his approach. Staying true to his ability to gather runs through ground strokes has allowed Kohli to stay effective in the shortest format.
Case in point is the T20I against South Africa in Mohali. Kohli’s most productive shot in that victory was the flick that fetched him 25 runs. Three years ago, at the same venue, Kohli had struck a 51-ball 82 to guide India to a six-wicket win against Australia in the 2016 World T20. There too, he had scored 20 runs from the flick, the single most effective shot in that innings.
In Kohli’s innings of 72 on Wednesday, the two regions that yielded the most runs were between third man and cover (27 runs) and fine-leg and midwicket (28 runs). If he had calmly flicked Kagiso Rabada for a six in the 18th over, Kohli also drove and cut Andile Phehlukwayo for consecutive boundaries. Every stroke was low on risk but fetched the desired result.
These two regions have been the most productive for Kohli across formats. Career wagonwheels suggest Kohli is slightly more dominant on the leg-side, a testament to his supple wrists.
There is no denying he isn’t perfect. Bouncers can make him edgy and problems outside the off-stump tend to creep up on him at times. But, irrespective of the format, Kohli more than makes up for that with those drives and punches down the ground. And by running singles and twos hard. It is the mark of a man who knows his flaws but is in complete control of his game.
Not many days back, Kohli tweeted a photo of him and Dhoni on the night India beat Australia in 2016. It was a virtual quarter-final and the most lasting memory for Kohli was how Dhoni made him run like in a ‘fitness test’. “I got a bit of motivation from that. When you play like that and win a game for your team, it is always a good feeling. That night was a revelation of how fit you can be on a cricket field,” said Kohli about that match after India’s win on Wednesday.
“Adapting in different formats is nothing but a mindset of making your team win. If you want to win a game for your team, you will find a way. That’s the most important thing. Test cricket, one-day cricket ... the will should be to win the game for your country.”
By omitting shots that could jeopardise his innings, Kohli has carved a T20 career that may not be high on entertainment but effective it certainly is. Cricket’s simple when played right. And Kohli seems to be doing just in the buildup to back-to-back World Twenty20 tournaments.