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Should Virat Kohli be slowing down after the powerplay?

He explained he had to against Punjab Kings, because the conditions were difficult, but caution doesn't always work out in T20 cricket

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
It is among the biggest debates in T20 cricket in India: should Virat Kohli be slowing down after the powerplay? One thing is certain: he is not being unmindful or selfish. In an interview with Robin Uthappa, he recently defended the slowing down for the first two-three overs after the powerplay because that is the time, he said, teams introduce their best bowler, and you need to assess what to do.
The interview assumed greater importance as only recently Royal Challengers Bangalore had lost a match after scoring 212. In that match, Kohli had gone from 42 off 25 in the powerplay to add just 19 off 19.
In the match against Delhi Capitals, Kohli showed more intent immediately after the powerplay. He hit two boundaries off Kuldeep Yadav's first two overs - their best spinner, as Kohli pointed out - but also offered a return chance, which was shelled. He ended up with a 34-ball 50, which won him the Player-of-the-Match award in their win.
The debates were raging again as Kohli went back to his original approach in the match against Punjab Kings in Mohali. He scored 29 off 19 in the powerplay, and his first boundary after that came at the end of the 14th over, the over immediately after the time-out. It also brought up his fifty off 40 balls, making it a run a ball after the powerplay. He ended up with 30 off 28 after the powerplay, and got out at the start of the death overs.
The approach of Kohli and Faf du Plessis, who managed to hit two sixes and improve his overall strike-rate, was expectedly questioned. Tom Moody, former Sunrisers Hyderabad coach and director, said on ESPNcricinfo that RCB need to examine if it is because he is getting stuck against spin or if it is strategy, and question it if it is indeed strategy.
Does Kohli need to score faster after the powerplay?
1.2K votes
No, he's the best judge of the situation
Yes, his drop in strike rate is too much
We don't know if it is a question of Kohli's ability against spin because he doesn't even try to hit them. His first boundary attempt after the powerplay came in the 14th over, against the pace of Arshdeep Singh. Until then, Rahul Chahar, PBKS' best spinner, was bowling, and Kohli made sure he didn't get any wicket although he went for just 24.
Glenn Maxwell felt obliged to hit out immediately after Kohli's dismissal, and got out. Despite starting the last five overs with all wickets in hand, RCB managed only 44 more.
All this debate so far has excluded conditions. It was apparent in Mohali that once the field spread and the ball lost its lacquer, it was difficult to hit out. And Mohali's square boundaries are big. This might become more and more the case as we go deeper into the Indian summer and the pitches lose their freshness.
In the end, RCB's score proved to be plenty. PBKS took the other approach, and tried to hit out against Wanindu Hasaranga, who went for 39 but also took the wickets of Matthew Short and Shahrukh Khan.
Kohli, captaining the side as the Impact Player rule allowed them to play du Plessis at less than 100% fitness, said later that the pitch dictated how they played.
"The conditions changed drastically," he told the broadcasters. "It wasn't easy to hit the big ones. Faf batted outstandingly well on that pitch. It wasn't easy to get the ball away. We knew that the new guys will find it tougher so we wanted to extend the partnership that me and Faf had for as long as possible, which will give us 20-30 more, which happened to be the case in the end.
"The pitch was very rough underneath. It was the grass that was holding the pitch. It wasn't the shiny pitch. I think there was not enough water there. If it's watered nicely, the ball skids on. It wasn't skidding on. There were hardly any sixes hit off the back foot off the spinners. That tells you the story. Even with the seamers, the slower balls were difficult to get away.
"Around overs seven or eight, when the ball started getting scuffed up, we felt the conditions had changed. We changed our strategy to bat deeper and try to maximise the last few overs. It didn't happen because me and Faf got out but had we stayed in, we had a chance to give it a crack towards 190 or 200."
At the halfway mark, Kohli felt 174 was "more than enough looking at the conditions".
What Kohli perhaps doesn't say - and who will say that in public? - is that outside him, du Plessis and Maxwell, RCB don't have much batting. Even when he showed more intent against DC and ended up being the Player of the Match, his dismissal brought about a collapse after which they had to scrap to get to 174, incidentally the same score they got in this match.
Something similar to this match took place in the last match where KL Rahul started off playing a maiden from Trent Boult, and immediately had a chat with his opening partner and decided to set their sights 20 lower than the 180 they thought was par. They won by 10 even though they fell short of the 160 they wanted.
On both these occasions, the captains felt they could have got 20 more if the final few overs went their way, but they felt they had secured a competitive score. Both these instances bear the stamp of MS Dhoni: don't risk getting out for a really low score in search of a really high one. Aim for par, and take the extra ones as bonus, stay in the game for as long as possible.
In the warm afterglow of these two wins, it is pertinent to mention that it doesn't always work as results have shown in T20 cricket. Now sides are batting even deeper with the Impact Player coming in. And even in theory, you could argue how does it help to say I will bat slower because others might go just as slow?
It is perhaps easier for us on the outside to bring it all up because we don't have skin in the game. Those out there in the middle are making assessments and acting on them with actual consequences in play. Yet the debate is far from settled.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo