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Virat Kohli's batting currently looks like a human question mark

Like every out-of-form batter, he's found interesting new ways to be dismissed, but given who he is, it's not a simple case of just dropping him from the XI

Jarrod Kimber
Jarrod Kimber
Virat Kohli is one of the greatest batters in cricket, and Rajasthan Royals started with two leg-side catchers for him in a T20 match. Off the third ball of the day, Kohli pushed to within an inch or two of a catch. Something has gone wrong when a player of his talent almost falls for a plan that couldn't have been clearer if Wile E Coyote had ordered it from ACME.
Kohli is in the middle of a form slump we have seen in T20 cricket before. Batters end up with many single-figure scores: Kohli's current run is 9, 0, 0, 12 and 1. It's slightly better than binary, but it happens.
Player A got 0, 1, 0, 0 and 14 in 2020-21. And Player B got 0, 0, 0, 0, 9, 0, 19, 0, 32 during the last IPL season. Those two duds are KL Rahul (second on the run-scoring chart this season) and Nicholas Pooran (now averaging 56, with four not-outs from his first seven games). It's not just T20 either. The great Greg Chappell once went 0, 0, 0, 0, 6, 12, and 0 across multiple formats.
Even the greats have wondered where the next run will come from.
Kohli decided against Royals that those runs would come if he opened. He did score two boundaries in that first over, but in all honesty, neither was good.
The first was a mangled drag to leg where the bat flew around his hands like someone had oiled the grip. For a batter as poetic and certain as Kohli, this looked accidental. The next one was just a mistake. His angled bat tried to push to the off side and nearly dragged the ball back onto his stumps, but instead, the edge went for four bonus runs to fine leg. Then he got two more inside edges that again almost ended up on his stumps.
Kohli is one of the most certain people on the planet, and his batting currently looks like a human question mark.
The nickname for Kohli at Royal Challengers Bangalore used to be the busiest man in the world. It was like dealing with a world leader, they would joke. You would only have a moment with the great man, so no matter what you were trying to pass over, you had to be clear, concise, and quick. Despite being captain, it was said in the 2018 season he never spoke a word to one of his team analysts. Every minute was accounted for. But he also made 530 runs at an average of 48 and while striking at 139.
That's an interesting season, because he hasn't been the dominant player at all since then. From the 2019 season until now in the IPL, he's been averaging a respectable 31, but with a 126 strike rate. The four seasons prior, he was averaging 52 and striking at 139. Things have changed.
We know that because everything from how many products Kohli spruiks on Twitter through to how many mentions his wife Anushka Sharma receives seems to be counted. But most of his life has been filled with glorious figures, and now it is not.
It's weird to think how much the lack of numbers has defined his current career.
Since making a hundred against Bangladesh in a Test in late 2019, Kohli has gone 112 innings without a century. In the 709 professional innings before that, he had 86.
In recent times it has been even worse. It would be easy to write it off if it wasn't for the fact that we have all seen him struggling more everywhere. There is no real repetitive problem Kohli has in the IPL this year. He's done what most batters do when in catastrophic form - finding interesting new ways to be dismissed.
T20 batting is about failure. But it speeds up the game, making any nasty knocks feel quicker and crueller. And how can you get form when you keep making golden ducks or getting run out?
Against Lucknow Super Giants, Kohli walked out in the first over to face Dushmantha Chameera after Anuj Rawat had been dismissed. His first ball was a back-of-a-length delivery outside off that moved away. He did an aggressive push, almost a flash, which went straight to backward point. Kohli looked up at his captain Faf du Plessis at the other end and winced a smile.
The smile was gone in the next match, against Sunrisers Hyderabad, when he walked in to face the ninth ball. It was a straightish half-volley from Marco Jansen and Kohli loosely pushed at it, giving a nick to second slip and just staring down at the pitch for a while.
Once it would have seemed incredible to have two slips for him when he arrived at the crease. Now it seems like a necessity. Kolkata Knight Riders' Umesh Yadav also had him outside off stump, in the third over, when Kohli pushed a ball leaving him. There was a misjudgement of length as well, against Chennai Super Kings, where he flicked a ball straight to square leg from his third ball.
Those were all so early in his innings that it would be hard to say he was out of form. But he was out.
There have also been two run-outs - each time he has over-committed and been sent back by a partner. He was on 12 from 14 balls against Delhi Capitals when he tried to take on Lalit Yadav at point and lost.
He also has the one decent score - 48 against Mumbai Indians - to take his total to 128 runs in nine games.
Because of who he is - not Pooran or Rahul - it's not a case of dropping him. One does not simply drop Virat Kohli.
Ravi Shastri and Kevin Pietersen have talked about how Kohli needs a break. And we have seen many players step away from the game in the Covid era. Over the last five years, it feels like as Kohli has become more of an industry, his form has slipped with it. The superhuman physical skills should be on the wane, and so his mind would need to be at its sharpest. If it's that simple - and these things rarely are - then a break makes the most sense.
On Tuesday night against Royals, after surviving Trent Boult's challenging first over, Kohli faced Prasidh Krishna. The second ball was a back-of-a-length delivery that seamed away. Kohli left it, but with zero authority. But what followed was a graceful and well-timed push to mid-off. If only for a moment, you think: if this is out of form, it's not that bad.
But that's followed by two short balls. One is a long way outside off. Kohli commits to the pull shot until he basically can't reach the delivery. The umpire calls it a wide. Had he got bat on it, a top or toe edge would have been the most likely outcome.
Prasidh follows up with a shorter, straighter and better ball. Kohli unsuccessfully tries to hook it. Despite the two fortunate boundaries, he's dismissed for nine from ten balls. du Plessis struggled in this innings, and so did Glenn Maxwell, who was out to a worse shot than Kohli's. Both are in better form than Kohli. None of this matters, though. Kohli walks off slowly, and the camera does not detect a hint of a smile.
T20 batting is about failure. But the speed of the game makes any nasty knocks feel quicker and crueller. This is not a "time in the middle" sport. And how can you get form when you keep making golden ducks or getting run out?
Form comes back as quickly as it leaves you in T20, but it never feels that way when you are struggling.
As Kohli is halfway through his hook shot off Prasidh, he is looking to fine leg, probably wondering if that's where his next run is coming from. Little does he know that the ball is looping to Riyan Parag behind his back at backward point.
A better metaphor for his current form you will not find.

Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber