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Match Analysis

What is ailing Virat Kohli?

His second successive golden duck added to the growing chorus calling for him to take a break

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
23-Apr-2022
It's the second over of the innings. Kane Williamson has to strain his vocal cords to get Aiden Markram's attention. He wants to move Abhishek Sharma from backward point to first slip. He wants to strengthen the slip cordon in a T20 powerplay with Markram now at second slip. He's had to literally yell from across the pitch because the decibel levels have soared.
Virat Kohli takes strike to Marco Jansen, who until four years ago could barely mumble a word to Kohli while assisting India's then all-format captain as a net bowler in Pretoria. The Jansen of 2022 isn't as conservative with his actions, though.
Jansen is expressive with his body language and most certainly expressive with his words. If he wants to give Jasprit Bumrah a send-off, he very well will, after roughing him up with a succession of short balls. Even if it means copping a few when it's his turn to bat. It comes from an unmistakable confidence in his abilities.
The inswing to the right-hander is his natural ball. But it's the one that holds its line that had brought him much success during a breakthrough home summer against India. It's this very ball that has him all pumped up this evening. He sends Faf du Plessis' off stump cartwheeling.
Now, he's up against Kohli. The Mumbai crowd can be unforgiving at the best of times. Kohli will know all too well the feeling of being booed here. But now, they're willing him on. To score runs. Just about anything that can classify as "form".
Kohli, bat-twirler and ferocious gum-chewer, faces up. His body language exudes naked aggression. Even before the openers had walked out to bat, there he was, all padded up, helmet strapped in, gloves set, like they usually are every single game. Nothing different there.
What has been different this IPL, though, is Kohli has been searching for runs. He has blown more cold than hot. Where's the timing? Is he struggling with bubble fatigue? Is he a victim of his own greatness? Where are the hundreds? Where's the genius chase master? Even MS Dhoni has wound the clock back. Surely, Kohli isn't far away.
Kevin Pietersen wants him to "chill". Ravi Shastri wants him to "take a break". Dilip Vengsarkar, the man who picked him for India, straight out of the Under-19s, is sure it's the tiredness that is getting to him. The harder he's trying, the tougher it's getting.
Game after game, the chorus has been getting louder. Where is Kohli of the 2016 vintage? The season where he could have walked on water. The season when he made four centuries and a mind-boggling 973 runs. That aggression has gone missing. The accumulation has been painful. The struggle to force the pace against spin all evident.
Royal Challengers Bangalore's team management, however, believes he's as free in the mind as he has ever been without the captaincy. Head coach Sanjay Bangar is confident the drought will end soon. Kohli believes, everyone believes.
Williamson thinks otherwise, as he places Markram at second slip. Kohli sees one pushed full. He instinctively throws his hands at it. Brabourne doesn't quite have the spongy bounce of Centurion, so it's likely the ball will fly off the bat should it meet his forward stride. Except, Jansen has angled it away towards fifth stump. He has dangled a carrot.
It can play on the ego of great players like Kohli. The front foot is out in no time, hands away from the body. The bolt-upright seam hits the deck and moves away a wee bit. In a split second, after he has played it, Kohli knows it hasn't gone where he wants it to. The ball flies low to Markram. Gone. Zero. A second straight first-ball duck.
Four nights ago, he had a wry smile after he flayed one straight to backward point. Here, he looks down at the pitch, looks at his bat, looks at the non-striker Anuj Rawat. As if to ask if what has happened is legitimate. He then yanks his gloves off and walks off shaking his head.
The Royal Challengers dugout is stunned. Kohli is stunned. Then comes the realisation. It's another knock that has ended in disappointment. And the chorus grows again.
What is ailing Kohli the batter?

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo