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How can Lions stop Kohli and de Villiers?

Having conceded 248 the last time they played Royal Challengers Bangalore in their backyard, Gujarat Lions will need a new bowling plan to counter their two best batsmen

Alagappan Muthu
Alagappan Muthu
Dwayne Bravo is ecstatic after picking up a wicket, Gujarat Lions v Mumbai Indians, IPL 2016, Kanpur, May 21, 2016

Though he leaked runs in both his previous matches against them, Dwayne Bravo's dipping slower ball could still trouble Royal Challengers Bangalore  •  BCCI

How does one stop Virat Kohli? That question has pretty much become rhetorical in 2016. Opposition bowlers are calling him a legend. Opposition captains opt to field at the toss to prevent him from going to his happy place. A simple land that offers a bat to play with and a target to chase down. Cricket experts can't predict the heights he will reach, and Kohli himself has felt unstoppable, judging from the many times he has said, "I could hit every ball for four or six" in this IPL.
How does one stop AB de Villiers? That question has pretty much been rhetorical since 2008. He has melded hockey, golf and cricket to become the most feared 360-degree batsman in modern times, though his rate of success skyrocketed only after he acquired the late defensive shot in April that year. Until then, he had seven centuries in 142 innings across formats. Since he played "the late defensive shot for the first time in my life" against India in the Ahmedabad Test, de Villiers has added five times as many centuries (38) in twice the number of innings (294).
Kohli and de Villiers are the kind of batsmen that do everything in their power to help their team win. They run like those cartoon villains with their backsides on fire. And above all, they are incredibly assured at the crease. So the best way to topple them is through deception.
Gujarat Lions have a couple of options to do that. One, they'd want Praveen Kumar and Dhawal Kulkarni to find movement through the air because there certainly won't be much off the pitch. They have to camp on a line outside off stump and tempt the drive. But they can't be too full. Praveen and Dhawal have to find that in-between length where the batsman's front foot can't reach the pitch and therefore the hands have to push at the ball and away from the body. Assuming they get some swing from there, nicks could fly.
Two, they'd like Dwayne Bravo to get his groove back, because if there ever was a delivery that could sucker punch a batsman in form, it's his big-dipper slower ball. Kohli and de Villiers may be able to read the offcut out of the hand, but that delivery's threat is not in its lack of pace, but in the sudden change in trajectory.
You may spot the variation early and wait in your stance to clobber it over cow corner. But just as the ball nears you, it dips under the bat swing and you are in no position to counter it. And lately Bravo has been better at disguising his trump card. There have been occasions when he would pack an entire over with slower balls so the batsman could set up for it. Now he is a bit more liberal in using his top pace, especially with the yorkers. That makes the big dipper even harder to spot. David Miller and Glenn Maxwell fell victim to this plan when Bravo collected his best IPL figures of 4 for 22 last month.
Kohli and de Villiers get their power from a strong base. If they are thrown off balance, at least they won't be able to time the ball. Only, Bravo and Lions have struggled to do that on both previous occasions this season. Bravo has leaked 89 runs in seven overs without taking a wicket.
This highlights a third, and perhaps the greatest issue, playing against Royal Challengers. Once they get on a roll, they are mighty hard. They made 211 for 3 in a 15-over match the last time they were in Bangalore; only 17 of those runs were on the board after three overs. Chris Gayle went six, six, four in the next over and the carnage was absolute. At one point, there were nine consecutive scoring shots - in sixes. At no point have they been stretched to find the boundaries. Kohli, especially, has rattled bowlers into doing the one thing they hate - run up to the bowling crease hoping for the end to come - simply by trusting his game and playing to a plan.
Lions have to do the same, and do it better. They were mauled for 248 for 3 at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium two weeks ago. With a trophy in their debut season on the line, they have to try and shave about 50-60 runs off that total.
They may have to set a limit for each over, maybe even each ball they bowl. They have to cramp Gayle for room. The spinners should back themselves to beat Kohli and de Villiers in flight - although chinaman bowler Shivil Kaushik does not yet have the control and might be dropped - and they have to bring Shane Watson in early because he has only had to face an average of nine balls per innings in IPL 2016.
That may yet mean their batsmen have to make, or chase 200. But that could well be the easier part of their job.

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo