India's latest run-machine Virat Kohli.
India's latest run-machine Virat Kohli. image courtesy: BCCI

Virat Kohli’s 2016 with the willow, in the shortest format, has left cricket lovers gasping for breath and marveling at the brilliance of the right-hander’s ability to score runs, on a very consistent basis.

He smashed three fifties in the T20I series in Australia, followed it up consistently performing in the Asia Cup and was undoubtedly the best batsman in the World T20. That unbelievable form has carried onto the Indian Premier League (IPL) and with 677 runs from 11 matches so far, he is way ahead of everyone on the scoring list. The key word for Kohli remains consistency and only two scores of less than 20 in the ongoing IPL proves it.

His 677 runs includes three centuries (the first batsman to score three hundreds in a single IPL season) along with four half-centuries. Ironically until this year, Kohli didn’t have a single T20 hundred on his name, but he has raised his game in this shortest format so much that even he is a little bit shocked.

Over the last five months, the Delhi run-machine has been on a frenzied dash, rewriting one record after another. But Virat Kohli’s game is not just about breaking records – it’s all about the way he is destroying the bowlers at the moment. From Don Bradman to Sachin Tendulkar, cricket has witnessed many greats walk the length of its hallowed turf. But the only factor that separates Kohli from the others is his inability to fail. All of the cricketing greats would fail once in a while – their greatness lay in how they recovered from and vanished the failure marks. But Kohli remains a freak – he just cannot and does not fail.

Cricket is a game of incredibly thin margins. Things can, and often do, go wrong for no fault of the player. A batsman may hit the perfect shot but also hit it straight towards the fielder. A benign pitch may play a random trick and turn an innocent delivery into a lethal one. And of course, an umpire may come up with a wrong decision and cost the batsman his wicket.

Interestingly none of these things happen to Kohli. And it is not always because he is lucky – it is because he has put himself on a level where nothing seems to affect him anymore.

No settling in

Cricket followers often wax lyrical about the time-tested theory of batsmen settling in at the crease. Contemporary belief suggests that every batsman should give themselves a little bit of time to get comfortable at the start of their innings. This time is needed to acclimatize and assess the situation, understand the vagaries of the surface, sum up what the bowler is doing, and then play your shots accordingly.

Kohli both defies that wisdom and at the same time obeys it. The difference is that he approach to the settling-in process is a bit different. While other batsmen would want to pat their first few deliveries away, Kohli tries to assess the situation, but at the same time ensures the bowlers do not get a chance to build a rhythm.

You may not see him playing the most extravagant shots at the start of his innings, but he ensures that he gets the same number of runs, generally by running hard between the wickets to make sure the run flow never stops.

It may have something to do with his approach to the game, but from the first ball onward, Kohli remains switched on. There is no playing and missing, no half-hearted dabs or indecision. You will only find a fierce determination with the confidence of a man who knows what he is doing.

Once the initial few deliveries are put away, then he steps up a gear. By that stage, his strike rate is roaming around 100 or so, the platform is set to unleash the big shots. Unlike other big-hitters in the modern game who rely on brute force, Kohli doesn’t bother about those skills. In an interview just after the 2016 Asia Cup, he clarified that he did not have the power to play big shots. But he makes up for it not just by timing his shots perfectly, but also by demonstrating very precise placement.

Placement over timing

Cricket, to some extent, gives less importance to the exact placement of the ball than the timing. However, every technically sound batsman knows placement is at least as important as timing. There is not much use of a perfectly timed cover drive if it goes straight to the fielder for no run.

What Kohli does at his best is bisect the gaps between the fielders and bisect them at will. His boundaries through backward point are a perfect example of this: he rolls his wrists to yorkers delivered outside the off stump to make sure they are directed towards the point boundary instead of the more squarish cover boundary. At the latter stages of an innings, captains invariably place a fielder on the cover boundary and Kohli manages to exploit that by beating the fielder.

All these tactics are used for deliveries which are on the mark. Unlike Kohli though, most of those bowling at him are human and invariably tend to slip up at some point. And when they falter, Kohli takes full advantage. If it is short, it is pulled away, most likely for an exceptionally well-timed and well-placed six. If it is on his legs, the ball will whip through, yet again perfectly placed, in the gaps. There are no cute dabs or paddle scoops from the 27-year-old – it seems as if he does not require them as his conventional textbook game does the job.

Make no mistake, he will only get better. Most batsmen who enjoy bright starts to their career are soon found out as bowlers start focusing on their weaknesses, but Kohli’s longevity lies in the fact that he has no perceptible weakness. He was beaten by the moving ball outside off stump in England last summer, but has worked quite hard on it and has now turned it into his strength. The bouncer does not affect him, nor does spin. If he continues in this vein, bowlers will have every reason to worry.

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