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Match Analysis

'Ever-evolving' Kohli brings his A-game to the middle overs

The RCB batter has scored over 600 runs in the IPL for the fourth time in a season, but his attacking mindset has stood out in this edition

Abhimanyu Bose
10-May-2024
You are making your IPL debut. It's against the franchise from your state. You are opening the bowling to two giants of the game. You beat Virat Kohli with one that jags away second ball. You get your third ball to swing away ever so slightly and get Kohli to miscue it in the air. Ashutosh Sharma, running back from point, gets to the ball, but he doesn't hold on. You had Kohli out without a run on the board, and then you didn't.
But that's cricket, right? You move on. It's okay that Faf du Plessis hits you for two back-to-back boundaries to close out that over. You come back and have him cutting a short ball straight to deep point in your second over. One giant down, one to go.
You follow it up with two more dots to Kohli and then you get the second giant, who has still only made 10 off nine balls so far, to hit a drive straight to the fielder at cover. Both RCB openers gone in an over? Wait, Rilee Rossouw can't hold on to a tough chance. Kohli escapes again.
You then have Will Jacks caught at short fine leg by Harshal Patel in the fifth over, but are robbed of another potential wicket when the same fielder drops Rajat Patidar at deep fine leg two balls later.
Despite picking up two big wickets in his first three overs, it was still a case of what could have been for Vidwath Kaverappa and Punjab Kings.
Kohli went on to make a 47-ball 92, helping RCB dominate the middle overs, while Patidar blazed a 23-ball 55. According to ESPNcricinfo's luck index, Ashutosh's drop of Kohli cost PBKS 45.98 runs, Rossouw's spill cost them 35.87 runs and Harshal's missed chance cost them 23.69 runs.
Kohli and Patidar both made the most of the lives they were given, as RCB - notorious for slowing down after the powerplay - upped the tempo in the middle overs. They have looked to assert themselves in the game in a late-tournament streak that has still kept them in the race for the playoffs.
Finishing on 56 for 2 after the first six, RCB raced to 100 in 8.3 overs, and were on 119 for 3 at the halfway stage of their innings. Only twice in their IPL history had RCB scored more in the first ten overs of a match, out of which one was in a 15-over match against PBKS in 2016.
While Patidar did take the pressure off Kohli in this phase (overs 7 to 10), especially by taking down Rahul Chahar for three sixes in his first over, Kohli himself struck at 222.22 - although, he was yet to face spin.
"It was important to keep up my strike rate through the innings, so I was just focused on taking the momentum forward for the team," Kohli told the broadcaster at the mid-innings break.
Rain and hail stopped the game at the ten-over mark, and when it resumed, PBKS managed to get a couple of quiet overs of spin away.
But then Kohli brought out a weapon he has recently started using with greater frequency of late - the slog sweep.
He followed a flick through midwicket against Liam Livingstone with a slog-sweep past a diving midwicket fielder, before clearing the rope with another slog-sweep against him in his next over.
In all, Kohli scored 23 off 13 against Livingstone and Chahar, although he probably saved his best slog-sweep of the night for Sam Curran.
Curran went for a full slower ball, wide of off, in the 16th over, and Kohli moved across to stand on offstump before getting forward and low, with the back knee touching the ground as he swung the ball high and far over long-on.
He finished the over with another six down the ground, taking 58 off 27 deliveries in the middle overs (7 to 16), which means he struck at 214.81 in the phase. Compare that to his strike rate in the middle overs this season before this match (133.33) and in IPL 2023 (133.96), and you will see a stark difference in his approach.
"I've brought out the slog-sweep to the spinners. I just mentally put myself in that situation and I didn't practice it at all," Kohli said at the presentation. "I know I can hit it because I've hit it a lot in the past. So, I just felt like I need to take a bit more risk and for me that shot was something that I used to hit regularly back in the day."
His intent in the middle overs has been a hot topic of discussion, with him also being picked in India's squad for the T20 World Cup 2024.
Kohli said that batting without the fear of getting out has helped him score faster.
"So, I think it just takes a bit more conviction and take out that thought that props up: 'what if you get out'," Kohli said. "I've been managing to stay ahead of that thought in this IPL and that's really helped me in the middle overs in this IPL, keeping my strike rate up and keeping the scoring rate going for the team as well."
Kohli, who has been around since the first edition of the IPL, acknowledged that he is still looking to add gears to his game.
"[I am working on] some added challenges in terms of improving your own game, certain aspects of your game that you want to get better at, because it's an ever-evolving process and I am certainly not a guy who wants to sit around saying this is the way I play and not improve on the things I need to."
On Thursday, Kohli went past 600 runs in a IPL season for the fourth time, and he did so at a strike rate higher than any other year. His knock against PBKS helped him edge his strike rate in IPL 2024 (153.51) past that of 2016 (152.03).
RCB's campaign may still be dependent on other results going their way but with the T20 World Cup approaching, Kohli breaking his shackles in the middle overs and being ready to take greater risks is a prospect that bodes well for India.

Abhimanyu Bose is a sub-editor with ESPNcricinfo