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The missing link in Kohli's ODI batting

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Agarkar: Hardik, Jadhav absence hurting India (1:32)

Ajit Agarkar and Phil Simmons discuss why India couldn't get across the line despite Kohli scoring a century (1:32)

Each time Virat Kohli has broken a record this series, he seems to have redefined the benchmarks of the format itself, to the extent the gag that Kohli can do anything has become potent. Case in point: when he became the tenth player to make three consecutive ODI hundreds, he also became the first of those to do so in a win, a loss, and a tie. Not a legitimate record by any means, but in this new paradigm of immortality, you'd imagine Sir Jadeja's sword itself has been laid in surrender at Kohli's feet, and Rajinikanth is battling Chuck Norris for second place.

On Saturday, he almost did everything, but the situation he was in with 14 overs to go - India needed 90 with only the bowlers to come - is not something he is used to. He's been around to bat with a No. 7 on some occasions, but there's usually a specialist allrounder in there.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar accompanied Kohli in an unbeaten 67-run partnership for the seventh wicket earlier this year, but he is at best a specialist No. 8: a bowler who has strong batting basics and the composure to stick around. He does not possess the skills or power of Hardik Pandya or Ravindra Jadeja, the men Kohli would usually have for company for the seventh wicket.

A look at Kohli's career partnership summary shows most conspicuously that he enjoys batting with openers Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, and being part of the trio that has shown unprecedented superiority lately. As you move down the list, you notice how many of his partnerships are with top-order batsmen, and how staggeringly few are with lower-order players.

Kohli has batted eight times each with Pandya and Jadeja. Players in a similar vein that Kohli has batted with are Yusuf Pathan (five innings), Irfan Pathan (one innings, when they opened together), Stuart Binny (one innings), and Axar Patel (one innings, when the pair added 57 unbeaten runs in a three-wicket win). Apart from those, he has batted thrice each with Bhuvneshwar, R Ashwin, and Harbhajan Singh.

In Visakhapatnam, during the second ODI, Kohli batted with a tailender for the first time in his career. That was Mohammad Shami, who faced one out of the seven balls they batted together. As of now, Kuldeep Yadav is the famous second partner.

That is an interesting ratio for a 214-match career. It further emphasises the point about India's current heavyweight top three taking turns to score big, often in each other's company. But more significantly, it shows that even though Kohli is adept as a finisher, the presence in the middle order of players like Suresh Raina and an in-form MS Dhoni has had a big impact on his batting and on India's success.

At one point in the third ODI, a reader on ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball commentary pointed out that it has probably been more than a decade since India had two batsmen with more than 10,000 ODI runs batting together. They should have seen India through together or, at the least, got into a position where Dhoni steered India's chase with the bowlers. A partnership summary of his career shows that Dhoni would have been the specialist in such a situation. Historically, there could not have been a better pair of finishers than Kohli and Dhoni with just over run a ball to get. But Dhoni's recent form has been questionable, and his old abilities have only appeared sporadically.

It was going to be hard in that case for Kohli. He prefers playing the anchor's role around the big-hitters and isn't accustomed to scoring the bulk of the runs in an ODI partnership.

The best batsmen in those situations often talk about taking the match as deep as possible. Kohli took a risk with a cross-batted shot against Marlon Samuels in the 42nd over, when the required rate was just over seven per over. Considering that Kuldeep was the next best batsman, and considering the form he is in, Kohli might have had more time than he thought. And in that final phase of India's loss was probably embedded the one thing that Kohli cannot do. But that would be like dismissing a 21-year old Kohli, saying he couldn't make centuries because he hadn't got one in 13 games.