Minutes later he was still at it, still shaking his head, unable to reconcile to the fact that he had just been dismissed cheaply, again, first ball after lunch. He had lunged at a ball way outside off from Marco Jansen and nicked. Again. He had looked good at the crease in very difficult batting conditions, then thrown it away against the run of play with poor shot selection. Again.
The manner of Kohli’s dismissals is now the biggest talking point in Indian cricket but it appears the champion batsman is simply unable to do anything about it.
Kohli’s 32-ball stay for 18 runs ended in similar fashion to the first innings, another loose waft at a ball on fifth or sixth stump resulting in another edge. The story was the same in the first innings in Centurion. And the same on the tour of England earlier in the year.
Even before Kohli got out, former captain Sunil Gavaskar had on air spent part of the morning session discussing Kohli’s dismissals in detail. “He has a back-and-across movement which is towards off-stump, instead of towards middle,” Gavaskar explained. “And then the front foot goes further towards off-stump too. This is why he tends to push at deliveries. Of course, he has scored nearly 8000 Test runs with this method.”
Former India batting coach Sanjay Bangar, who in the first innings harped on the need for Kohli to bring his backfoot into play more often, also weighed in on the issue. “In 2018 he wanted to practice on some seaming tracks in dewy conditions, to simulate conditions in England.
“We drew an imaginary box and he made an effort not to take his hands out of the box. So he was playing under his eye, close to his body. He wouldn’t make the mistake of taking his hands out of the box,” Bangar said.
Kohli, however, seems to have fallen back into old habits and patterns. “In his formative years he was scoring a lot of runs on the on-side so the bowlers started to bowl fifth stump, sixth stump lines. The kind of pitches he grew up on in Delhi also made him a front-foot player,” Bangar said.
When the inevitable dismissal happened, Gavaskar looked unsurprised. “Look how far away that ball is, he could have left it well alone. Because he is predominantly a bottom-hand player, the bat has an angle to it which gets him out.”
The onus is now on Kohli to come up with a remedy, because bowlers have now woken up to this failing. At 33, India’s Test skipper would have been expected to be at the peak of batting form. Instead, his Test averages have sunk below 30 for the past two years.
Kohli averaged 19.33 in three Tests in 2020 and 28.21 in 11 Tests this year. His average has fallen to 50.34, the lowest in his career. He is now fourth in the list of Indian captains with worst performances in a calendar year.
This is a cricketer who has repeatedly reinvented himself in order to score big. Maybe it’s time for one more such tweak. As Gavaskar said, “(Sometimes) you need to make little, little changes based on your modes of dismissal.”