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Kohli in England: A legacy pushed back by his forward stride

Last updated on 14 Jun 2023 | 11:23 AM
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Kohli in England: A legacy pushed back by his forward stride

Virat Kohli's dismissals in the recently concluded WTC final hint at an unfulfilled legacy in England

Full length delivery. 

Wide outside the off stump. 

Virat Kohli throws his bat at it. 

Edged and gone.

It’s not 2014. It’s 2023. And for the nth time, Kohli is out playing a ball he should have left. He fails to deliver in England yet again. 

He had scored a fluent 49. But it was not enough. It was a molehill in front of the mountainous task ahead of the Indian team. 

Kohli, with an experience of more than 100 Tests, must be aware of seeing through the first hour on the last day of the World Test Championship final against Australia

Not many balls behaved mischievously that morning. Promising signs for Kohli and India. Seeing through the first hour without losing a wicket would have increased India’s chances significantly. 

Yet, again, Kohli perished to a delivery he could have left alone. That was the most frustrating aspect of his dismissal. It was also the widest delivery he had played in that innings that lasted 78 balls. 

For Kohli, Test cricket in England has been akin to a box full of dark chocolates for a sweet tooth person. You only enjoy a few pieces. He enjoyed the second piece, ie, the 2018 tour. After a horrific 2014 series in England, where he was the lowest run scorer among all batters to have batted in 10 innings, Kohli became the top scorer across both sides in 2018. He mustered 593 runs at an average of 59.3 and amassed two hundreds.

“Virat Kohli is a very good player. When I see him score runs in England, I would call him a great,” said Michael Holding in early 2018. While that criticism seemed harsh, Kohli still answered them with flying colors. It felt that he had unlocked the skillset to score in England too. Another step towards the legendary status. 

All those hopes came crashing down in 2021.  The third piece in the box felt bitter again when he was out on the first ball of his third trip to England. It was a testing first ball from James Anderson but it is imperative to leave deliveries like those at the start of your innings. Kohli prodded at a fifth stump delivery, almost by muscle memory. 

The former India skipper has a perennial forward press in his trigger movement. It makes him impeccably fluent with his cover drives. But it also disables him from playing the ball late, which is rudimentary to success in the England conditions. 

England is a unique country to play Test cricket. The ball swings the whole day. The conditions may seem to settle down for the batters but the odd ball can still move. Hence, it is important for batters to play the ball late even after getting their eye in. 

Kohli’s forward push makes him vulnerable to any movement of the ball. His keenness to feel the ball early on the bat makes him prone to the deliveries he can let go to the wicketkeeper. 

Thus, Kohli’s first ball dismissal at Trent Bridge, 2021 was symbolic of his struggle throughout the series. Out of his 10 dismissals in the series, the right-hander was out while playing a front-foot defense against the pacers seven times. 

Even in 2018, when he scored those truckloads of runs, Kohli miscued the front foot defence in high proportion. It has been a constant feature of his game in England. 

The WTC finals are another sound example. In the second innings versus New Zealand, Kohli was out feeling for the ball outside the stumps. In the same Test, Kane Williamson had shown the perfect defensive technique to counter the extreme English conditions

In 2023, the Indian batter was out to Scott Boland’s sucker ball in the second innings. In the first, his forward push put him in an awkward position against a rising delivery. 

"Yes, it was a tough delivery because he was so committed to the front foot that he was not able to withdraw his bat at the last moment,” said Sunil Gavaskar after Kohli’s dismissal in the first innings. 

In England, Kohli’s balls-per-dismissal ratio of 40.1 while defending on the front foot against pacers is the second lowest in any Test playing nation. His catch map graphic is heavily dominated by catches behind the stumps. 

In 11 out of his 33 innings in England, Kohli has been out between the 30-60 run range. It denotes throwing it away after getting his eye in. A lot of those innings have been cut down by his premature commitment on the front foot. Like in the second innings against Australia on Sunday (June 11). 

It is startling that after a successful 2018 tour, Kohli has not made the adjustments required to succeed in England. The dismissals in the recently concluded WTC final hint at an unfulfilled legacy. He is 34 years old now and India are not scheduled to play Tests in England in the upcoming WTC cycle.

Nearly 95% of the batters, including the ones in the pantheon of greatness, lag in at least one country. Ricky Ponting averages 26.5 in India, Brian Lara 33, Rahul Dravid 29.7 in South Africa and Jacques Kallis 35.3 in England and Sri Lanka. For Kohli, that country has been England where he averages 33.2. 

He also averages in 30s or below in West Indies (35.6), New Zealand (36) and Bangladesh (14.5). In Bangladesh, he has played only two Tests and in New Zealand, only four. In West Indies, he has nine Tests. However, he has now featured in 17 Tests in England, his most away from home. 

Kohli has a terrific record in a few other SENA countries - 54.1 in Australia and 51.4 in South Africa. It is England where his record stings the most. He is one of the finest batters against express pace but struggles in tackling consistent swing. 

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