September 13, 2012

The Kohli method

His numbers are phenomenal, and that's thanks largely to his ability to make a plan and stick to it

When they first donned the Indian colours, the likes of Ms Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh were self-assured, resilient, fiercely talented and more. Today, though, Virat Kohli seems to have outmoded his predecessors in a manner that has made him the face of Indian cricket's next generation. He has scored 13 centuries in 90 ODI matches. Those are phenomenal numbers by any yardstick. Look closer, in a comparative framework, and the numbers hit harder. Kumara Sangakkara, for instance, has scored 14 hundreds, 11 of those from No. 3 or higher, in 333 ODIs. Virender Sehwag has scored 15 in 249 matches, and Gautam Gambhir has 11 in 139. These stats, striking as they are, tell us a thing or two about the sort of prospect Kohli is for Indian cricket.

If one goes by the exterior - the spiky hair, tattoos, the swagger and arrogance of a confident young man, Kohli epitomises 21st century Indian youth. But the way he bats, especially in the first half of each innings, he seems the antithesis of how young cricketers in India like to bat in this day and age of T20 cricket. These days most young men prefer to go after the bowling right from the beginning, and to keep hitting it till they last. It takes your breath away when it comes off, and looks woeful when it doesn't, but taking a bit of a risk seems to be the new way of living.

Kohli, on the contrary, is old-fashioned when it comes to constructing his innings. Regardless of his personal form, familiarity with the attack and the conditions, he always starts slowly, albeit confidently. At the beginning of an innings, every batsman is slightly edgy and likes to get bat on ball and score a few to get going. This urge to get on with the game is even stronger if you are in good form. It must take immense self-control for Kohli to resist that temptation every time he walks out to bat these days, and to stick to his original plan of biding time.

His self-control at the beginning of every innings is the primary reason for his consistency. Exercising this self-control would be a lot easier for someone who doesn't have as many shots as Kohli does, which makes his self-denial more creditable. His ability to plan meticulously and then diligently follow the plan is the common thread in most of his innings.

Conventional wisdom suggests that the bigger the arc one's bat creates, the more power one generates. The arc starts from the top of the backlift and finishes with the follow-through after playing the shot. The best way to ensure a bigger arc is to allow the top hand to remain in control for as long as possible and extend the arms fully (elbow not bent) after playing the shot. Kohli's bat-swing, however, is not quite how the coaching manuals say it ought to be. He has a relatively short backlift, and an even shorter follow-through. But he generates phenomenal bat speed by flicking his wrists at the point of contact, which in turn generates immense power. The flip side of such a bat-swing is that he is a bottom-hand-dominated player. Once again, though, by delaying his strokes, he has found a way to be equally fluent through the off side.

When I saw Kohli for the first time, I was a little sceptical about his short front-foot stride. To make matters more complicated, that short stride was going far too across. While the short and across front-foot stride allowed him to whip balls pitched on middle through the on side, it also made him slightly susceptible to full-pitched swinging deliveries, or when the ball deviated appreciably off the pitch.

During one of our conversations while playing for Delhi, I told him about my observations. He assured me that he had found a way around it, which was by allowing the ball to come to him. I saw merit in his method of dealing with the shortcoming, but I wasn't fully convinced that it would work at the highest level.

By scoring 13 ODI hundreds while batting at No. 3, he has certainly proved that his solution works just fine. It also proves that technique is slightly overrated at times. In fact, Kohli's method of overcoming his technical deficiency is his biggest strength: playing very late. By allowing the ball to come to him, he is able to find the gaps more often. Playing the ball right under his eyes also ensures that he misses fewer deliveries, and so the perils of the short front-foot stride are taken care of.

He may still find it slightly difficult when the ball is pitched up in seaming conditions, but considering the way he has evolved as a batsman, I don't have any reasons to believe that Kohli won't find a way around that too.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Devavrat on September 16, 2012, 9:39 GMT

    Why cant people read an article, understandand say thank you ? Why do the engage in Mud-Slinging; going one step beyond - people actually have the audacity to challenge / comment / state the technicality of batting / cricket - which sounds exactly like what is said on TV by commentators, the likes shastri, Rameez etc. Aakash is a player of the game at the highest level and understands the game much better than anyone commenting here. One dosent have to hit 100 centuries to understand the game, and if that is the yardstick than what about greats like Ramakant Achrekar Sir ?!?! Isnt he the same man to whom Sachin approaches even today ? John Wright, Gary Kirsten, McDermott, might not world records to their name, but they know the game very well. So guys - take a break and appreciate / learn from what is written.

  • Aditya on September 16, 2012, 6:18 GMT

    Akash Chopra certainly seems to be the think twice & then speak kind. Hailing from Delhi, he must have watched Sehwag, Gambhir, and Kohli (even Unmukt Chand) a lot earlier than most. His balanced opinion certainly reflects in every article and make it a good read for purists. To cut the long story short, if Chopra says Kohli is good, he is (we always knew it, of course)!

  • Dummy4 on September 15, 2012, 9:37 GMT

    Just creating batting tracks or spinning tracks and saying we are great is no point...... shameful Gautam gambhir manjrekar dhoni should not open there mouth.........gautam gambhir has played only against the poor teams and the pitches that are either have deteriorated or been produced flat to assist india...... australia tour they ve got 2 flat tracks against a struggling aussie team but they themselves humiliated...poor to see indian fans supporting this team who can play only against pathetic attacks......

  • Ashok on September 14, 2012, 21:25 GMT

    Aakash, that is an excellent analysis of Kohli's batting stats. + his technique & footwork+improvisation. In Overs 41-50, Kohli's S/R is 9 runs/over. This is where Dhoni & Yuvraj jointly failed Vs. NZ by getting just <7 runs/over in death overs!. That is the main reason why Kohli is a Match winner. My second comment is about his batting technique, especially the short foot forward. This appears to originate from Sehwag & Tendulkar who both move forward to play wristy shots towards leg side. This requires very good eye sight & bat-eye coordination & timing. Rohit Sharma has been falling a victim to the same stroke due to missing one or more of these requisites & Sachin has been LBW as well as bowled recently on this stroke. Kohli's improvisation is commendable & I also saw Amla playing this stroke. Kohli is Mr. Consistency for possessing all these attributes & executing them so well.One century/7 ODI's is magnificient!. No wonder Kohli is a worthy succesor to Sachin & Rahul.Bravo Virat!

  • Dummy4 on September 14, 2012, 14:29 GMT

    @trueanalyst - I expected this answer. But read my comments completely. "As long he is in good form" he can middle it. Its all timing now just like shehwag. Once he gets old and loses a little bit of form it would be a trouble.

  • V.L on September 14, 2012, 13:29 GMT

    @Street_Cricket I would like to suggest a few more for you folks - "Lessons form a torrid tour of India", "Spinners or nightmares" , "The great who averaged 23 in India", "How to be useless against spin", "Despicable vs Spin" "How to get bowled out for under 50 in SA and still claim we are great" etc.,

  • saurav on September 14, 2012, 12:34 GMT

    @Ted Osborne @Thomas_Ridge

    Kohli's overseas record for you(only in Australia,England and SA vs any team). Just the two hundreds but a very decent number of runs and an excellent average of just over 50.;filter=advanced;home_or_away=2;home_or_away=3;host=1;host=2;host=3;orderby=start;template=results;type=batting;view=innings

  • Krishna on September 14, 2012, 12:06 GMT

    Akash has written a lot about bat swings and front foot positionings. That is too technical and like he rightly pointed out, technique is over-rated. It is advisory and not mandatory. The biggest thing about Kohliist the price he puts on his wicket. The bowler has to EARN Kohli's wicket. No loose shots, no flamboyance. Also, like somebody pointed out he is a match-winner unlike Sachin. The reason is, mentally he is very strong. He is not as talented as Rohit Sharma - anyone who disagrees does not know cricket. Sachin lacks mental strength, though his ability is superhuman. That is the main reason why he has been a lousy captain. Kohli on th eother hand, would be a fantastic captain.That said, Kohli is constantly improving. He has learned the downside of high living very early in life and is seeking to improve all the time. He has the temperament of Saurav. He can be deconstructed within no time by a quality opposition, due to his lack of innate talent. He is the face of Indian cricket.

  • sreedhar on September 14, 2012, 11:45 GMT

    @praveenbokka you may be kidding.I don't think You will get anyone better than Lasith Malinga for bowling fast yorkers and see how he toys with him

  • Dummy4 on September 14, 2012, 9:34 GMT

    Ok this is coming from a Pakistani Fan...This guy is gonna break all the records that Sachin has made, and to me he is the best batsman in the worlds best batting line, Brilliant Batsman, and a match winning one , unlike Sachin. !

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