Kohli's weakness grows wider
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.
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.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo