Can Virat Kohli be set up?

Jason Gillespie and Ryan Harris think it is not impossible. To do so, Australia's fast bowlers will need to be switched on at all times

The 2014-15 tour of Australia was a watershed for Virat Kohli. India lost the series 2-0, but he finished second, behind Steven Smith on the run charts, and set the bar high with his domineering batting. Since then he has pushed the standard consistently higher. Now he returns to Australia as the game's pre-eminent batsman across formats and the No. 1 in Tests. Can Josh Hazelwood, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins stop him? We spoke to two former Australia fast bowlers: Jason Gillespie, who is now a coach; and Ryan Harris, who duelled with Kohli a few times, including in that home series four years ago.
Get him early
Gillespie: You need to be switched on from ball one. Because if Kohli has faced 20-odd balls and he has got more than 10-15 runs, he usually gets a significant score. And that is why it Is so crucial to impact early. There cannot be any warm-up deliveries against Kohli.
Don't allow him to get going by giving him an easy shot - a half-volley, a tuck off the hip, a cut shot. If he is going to score runs, make him earn them, make him play really good shots, and make him take a risk. That applies to every batsman, but because Kohli is such a big and important player in this Indian side and so much rests on him as captain, it is really important to make sure you are switched on and you are bowling the best delivery you can.
Harris: Virat early on is a nervous starter, so you need to really get it up there and get him driving. What he does like is width, so you can't be too wide. He looks for that good shot to get him away to give him that confidence. We've just got to make sure we challenge him early and hope he makes a mistake.
"Virat likes to dominate, has a big ego. And that is why he is so good: he has that ego, he has that confidence in what he wants to do"
Ryan Harris
Get him to drive
Harris: My goal early on, especially on the quicker wickets, was always to get the batsman driving. It did not matter whether it was Virat Kohli or Joe Root; I wanted the batsman to be tempted to drive. That would be the plan I reckon even the current lot of Australian fast bowlers will have against him. They also have a little more pace than I had, which can come handy with that plan.
I recall Virat getting some four hundreds last time around in Australia. He likes to dictate the pace, so you just have to bowl deliveries that he is not got to hit. And then adjust the fields. You can bowl wider outside off, set an off-side field and try and force him to try pushing them to the on side. You try and bowl good balls, dry up the scoring and build the pressure and be persistent and very patient.
Use seam and swing
Gillespie: Everyone thinks Kohli has no weaknesses, and that is fair. He has a lot of strengths. But in England when the ball seamed or swung a little bit, I noticed he, at times, went really hard at the ball. I would like the Australian bowlers to have a look at that.
On good surfaces where the ball is not really swinging or seaming, even if the length is not really quite there to drive, Kohli might still throw his hands at it and he will connect 99 times out of 100. But those deliveries in the UK were a bit different, with the Dukes ball, where Kohli nicked to the keeper and slips reasonably early a few times.
Set him up with a good line
Gillespie: That fourth-stump line, about bail-high, with the potential movement away would be my stock ball to Kohli as a right-arm bowler. The variation would be the one that is pitched on off stump and just holds its line. And maybe even look to angle the ball back in to create the opportunity for bowled or lbw. To me that would be a really simple, easily implementable plan.
Bowling straight was also a good counter to Kohli's strategy in England this summer. He was plonking his front foot towards the off stump and flicking it to midwicket. It got him to get off strike easily. But if you maintain that off stump or fourth-stump line I am talking about, with the ball going away from him, if he tries to access those deliveries, to get over them, then there is the potential it could hurt him.
Harris: To start off, you ought to bowl the fourth- or fifth-stump line. I know the guys tried bowling wider on the tour of India against him early on, so that is another plan that could be tried, hoping he nicks one. But the bottom line is: he relies on length. If the length is there to drive then that is what you want to try and get him to do. But just short of length or if it is too full - that is where he capitalises.
Find the ideal length
Gillespie: I would recommend finding a length that would go past at bail-height. Keep in mind all of the Australian front-line quicks are very tall. So the bounce they generate from the right length will hit Kohli's bat a lot higher and make it difficult for him to manoeuvre and place the ball where he wants.
"That off stump, fourth-stump line, about bail-high, with the potential movement away would be my stock ball to Kohli as a right-arm bowler"
Jason Gillespie
Adjust the length
Harris: His obvious plan when he stands outside the crease is to negate the swing and force the bowler to change his lengths. He knows he can take the lbw out of the equation as well. I've just got to make sure I am aware, I am on top of it and I change my lengths accordingly to make him play shots he does not want to. When he stands outside the crease, just try and pitch on a spot where you are trying to get him to drive, but not too full. If you are getting it to bounce around the knee roll or top of the pads and if he comes hard at you, he could nick or miss.
Gillespie: The key is, If he is going to stand that far out [about a yard] and if the ball is going to be bail-high, that ball is going to be essentially a half-volley. If he is batting a foot outside the crease, they need the ball going past him at the knee-roll or so. The challenge for the bowler is to adjust the length depending on where Kohli is taking his stance. So that is a skill in itself. That can be sorted with communication between bowler and the fielders - particularly the point fielder or guys behind the wicket.
Use the short one judiciously
Gillespie: You can pitch the occasional bouncer. For that to work, I will have two fielders back - fine leg and deep backward square. So if you do get too straight, and he works it through to the leg side, there is a bit of protection. Having those two fielders also gives the bowler the opportunity to bowl a really good bouncer and know that there is a chance of a wicket. If he gets a top edge, those fielders are there to grab that or to save runs.
Plug the off side
Gillespie: Kohli looks to score at all times, especially on the off side. That is where the wicketkeeper and slips will come into play. If the ball is not moving off the straight, if it is not swinging, you can potentially put a fielder at catching cover. But if the ball is swinging I would be inclined to keep cover open and encourage him to drive through there initially. I would also have slips and gully in place initially to invite the drive and potentially get a nick.
Don't lose the mental battle
Gillespie: You have got to get your skill right, but it is always a battle of patience. It is about building that pressure to create that opportunity. Whoever is winning that battle of patience is invariably in front of the game and influencing it. You may well bowl a ball that is a wicket-taking one, but sometimes it is hit for a four or defended well. You have to bowl as many wicket-taking balls as you possibly can, to give yourself a chance. The duel is fascinating if you can hang in, stay patient, build that pressure to create those potential opportunities.
I always loved such one-on-one contests with the best batsmen. You want to test yourself against them. You might have some success, you might not. But you go out there with a positive attitude, with an attitude that you can learn something.
Harris: Virat likes to dominate, has a big ego. And that is why he is so good: he has that ego, he has that confidence in what he wants to do. So you have got to try and force an error and get him to do something he does not want to do. Whatever you do, you have to be patient with it and you have got to try and put pressure on him. You are going to bowl good balls but he is going to come out and play good and great shots. You have got to make sure you are clear with your plan, so that when he does play good shots, you are able to go back to that plan and bowl good balls again.
Virat is a guy you don't talk to. He loves the battle. If you talk to him it sort of gets him in the game and switches him on. I tried to talk once and I learned pretty quickly that that's what he wanted me to do. As a bowler you don't want to help the batsman get into the contest. He loves dominating. He is a very good leader. He loves being the man that wins the game for his country. That is why he is such a very good player.

Nagraj Gollapudi is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo