England v India, 3rd Investec Test, Ageas Bowl, 3rd day July 29, 2014

Kohli's weakness grows wider

Virat Kohli's is a game without any other glaring weakness but England have clearly tried to play on the attacking batsman's ego a bit but starving him outside off stump

Trent Bridge
Just after lunch on day one, James Anderson and Stuart Broad bowl eight deliveries at Virat Kohli. Seven of them are outside off, one is short enough to be left alone. The eighth one of those is short of a length and wide, albeit from wide on the crease with the angle making Kohli play. Kohli plays, pushing away from the body, and his bat nudges it through for a catch to slip.

Ageas Bowl
Kohli has had a longer innings than at Trent Bridge. Fifty-three of the 75 balls he faces are pitched on a length or short of it, and arrive at him either outside off or really wide outside off. He has left alone 22 of those. The second ball of the 47th over is short of a length and wide, and he goes after it. The edge flies high to first slip and is not held. Anderson bowls the next over. Five balls outside off, three defended, two left alone. The sixth ball is short of a length and wide, Kohli can easily leave it, but he goes feeling for it, and he edges it through. This is the shot batsmen hate the most: a meek push to a ball that can be left alone; even if you middle it, you are not going to get anything.

Auckland ODI, January 2014
Hamish Bennett bowls two maidens to Kohli comprised almost exclusively of quick short-of-a-length balls that are at the seventh stump or wider. This is an ODI and the asking rate is big, but you can see Kohli is itching to feel the ball on the bat, and eventually nicks off.

Durban, December 2013
Once again, playing at a shortish ball outside off, Kohli is given out caught at the wicket. He is unfortunate, he hasn't hit this one, but he is pushing at a ball that can be left alone both on line and length.

A few similar dismissals might not yet point to a major weakness, but bowlers are increasingly bowling well outside off to Kohli. Dry up the runs, ask Kohli to play out of his comfort zone, on and around off where he cover-drives as well as anyone, and go away from the body if he wants those runs he so itches to get.

Kohli is an aggressive batsman, he loves to get early into an innings and set the tempo. His best innings in Test cricket have been those where he has restrained himself to leave and leave and leave until the bowlers bowl at him. At the Wanderers late last year, when Kohli scored a superlative hundred with the ball seaming around on day one, he didn't play at 16 of the first 28 deliveries he faced. He got himself in, got some runs before lunch, and then when the afternoon session began, he offered no shot to 11 of the first 17 he faced.

This is not as much a technical flaw as it is a habit, in that it is easier to correct than, say, being poor against the short ball. It is unique, too, in that batsmen usually are vulnerable when the ball is just outside off, and not wide of it. And Kohli's is a game without any other glaring weakness. England have clearly tried to play on the attacking batsman's ego a bit. If you bowl at the stumps, he gets solidly behind them, begins to feel confident feeling the ball on the bat and then drives gorgeously. In this series, in five innings, Kohli has managed only 11 runs through that cover-drive of his. The idea has been to not get too close to him either on length or line.

More than half the balls Kohli has faced in the series have been on a length or just short of it, and outside off or well wide of it. "Still two Tests to go. Not sure I can discuss that," Stuart Broad said when asked if they have been bowling wider at Kohli than they would other batsmen. "Let's just say he is pretty strong off his legs so you don't want to bowl too tight to the stumps. You have seen in one-day cricket how successful he is when bowlers bowl tight lines. We have worked - when the ball has not been swinging or the slightly flatter wickets - to just try to dot him up, try to not let him score. He left pretty well today. Apart from the one that he poked at. He will be frustrated with himself. We need to keep our disciplines with him."

Kohli has scored just 73 over these five innings, and will be under pressure after he came to England as the best batsman in the Indian line-up. Kohli has been working hard. Two days before the Test began he was in the nets before the rest of the team arrived. What he will be annoyed with is that he has fallen twice to a tame poke well outside off. The one he got at Lord's, with Anderson angling in towards off and then having it move away from just outside it, was a good delivery. That dismissal shouldn't concern him. This one should. Trent Bridge should. Watch out for those wide ones when he comes in to bat next.

Play 03:42

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on August 4, 2014, 19:50 GMT

    How did they change Kohli into a good looking guy? I used to think his eyes looked like fireballs or too large for his face! And as for his batting he batted superbly in one test in SA. His century in New Zealand was made when the game was fading into a draw. His Australian century was after the series defeat. In India he batted slow in tests. It looked like Indians have read too much into that brilliant innings he played in SA. That might be a fluke. Kohli may not be a really good batsman.

  • Rob on August 2, 2014, 22:11 GMT

    I am not surprised by Kohli's failure thus far as he is primarily a short form cricketer and a very good one at that, Pujara on the other hand I thought would be the prominent Indian batsman (not batter), he will find form again. It is not a given if someone exceeds at ODI they will be a force in test matches, he has a couple of good knocks abroad but overall does better on flat SC decks where he can bully the bowlers. Constantly we see calls to pick someone for tests based on how they have performed in the irrelevant, regarding test matches, IPL. Kohli is falling for the bait every time, and after nearly 30 tests....in addition his bowling and fielding are poor at best and the less said about his attitude the better.

  • Dummy4 on August 1, 2014, 19:42 GMT

    Kohli is a world class ODI player and while he may be very good looking and very rich and have an ego the size of Jupiter he is by far from the best Indian test batsman atm. Kohli has six tons and averages under 43, Pujara has six tons and averages over 54. Kohli's average is even worse than Root or Bell. But the telling stat? Of Pujara's 6 tons, most have been big including 2 doubles and two 150+. Even Root, after his first ton, has scored an unbeaten 150, a 180 and an unbeaten double. Kohli's top score is 119. Can you see the difference. Yes, his ODI batting is amazing (15-20 runs better average than Root or Bell) and given his good looks this makes him very marketable in India. But while Pujara could be the new Dravid, Kohli, in test matches, will never be the new Sachin. A world class bat would have turned one of his 6 tons into at least a 150. Ask anyone from Eng, Aus or SA whether they'd rather have Pujara or Virat in their test team. I'd also rather have Rahane.

  • Dummy4 on August 1, 2014, 6:55 GMT

    its unfortunate to see such an article..ODIs,tests,t20,kohli has been scoring heavily..in all conditions and everywhere.. he had scored test centuries in SA,AUS,NZ where the conditions were tough.. every great players had issues outside the off and even tendulkar or ponting were no exceptions. kholi played only couple of tests in Eng and its disappointing to see such an article.. he is young and is a class act..he will come out of this soon and anwser..

  • KISH on August 1, 2014, 4:50 GMT

    To be honest, I haven't watched Kohli batting in this series (Because, before he comes to the crease, the other batsmen have well and truly made me go to sleep). But, judging by the scores I can see, it is not a surprise. Kohli is someone who bats well when faced with a big challenge. However, when the expectations are high and the weight of being the best batsman in the side being too big, he was meant to fail. This is where those of you who have been rating him higher than Tendulkar will find the truth. It is never easy to perform when you are expected to carry the nation's hope. It takes some special talent to do well in any conditions and then dominate the bowling attacks overseas. The likes of Dravid, VVS Laxman and Gavaskar have performed consistently well overseas. But, Tendulkar dominated attacks consistently in all the countries when the whole team relied on his brilliance. It will take at least another decade before we find another talent who is even comparable to Tendulkar.

  • Dummy4 on July 31, 2014, 14:39 GMT

    England Back With A Bang,,,,,Where are the critics gone who just criticize helpless cook,hardworking bell and Captaincy and said England are worst in 20 years,,,,i don't think a team which won by 270 margin is worst...

  • Dru on July 31, 2014, 10:46 GMT

    Storm in a tea cup this I am afraid. Sure he has had a few failures in England but great players before and after him have had the same issue. Dont think he has a problem outside off, the technicality being put forward is an issus for most batters, its just that Kholi has filed in 3 tests in Eng. The guy just scored hundreds in SA and NZ!!

  • Martin on July 31, 2014, 9:54 GMT

    Some time ago on cricinfo forums I said that Joe Root would do better than Virat Kohli and that if Kohli was a good player then so is Joe Root. Don't get me wrong - I can see that Kohli is a class act. But just now I would rather have Joe Root in my side than Kohli. Like a lot of current India batsmen - Kohli seems to be a shorter format kind of player. He wants to give it a whack and not be too concerned about his off stump or the waiting slips.... But I was really surprised to see him get out to Moeen yesterday, I mean REALLY surprised. Kohli is going to have to do some work on his game and become accomplished overseas - and Dravid could certainly help him with that.

  • Blessing on July 31, 2014, 9:46 GMT

    Kholi and Dhawan are nothing but ODI and T20 batsmen they dont have the levels of concentration required for test cricket.

  • Ripal on July 31, 2014, 9:13 GMT

    Kohli is not yet an established test cricketer. Sorry fans, but he has a long way to go as far as the test cricket is concerned. It is not about how many runs he scored in six innings but he was easily fooled by ordinary English bowling. In comparison, Bhuv Kumar's batting technique was much better and shot selection was even far better. I am quite confident that he is not going to be successful in the remaining two tests as well.