Explained: Why spin struggles, not milestones, were the cause of Virat Kohli’s post-powerplay slowdown
@Aadya_Wisden 5 minute read
In IPL 2023‘s second fixture in Bengaluru, Virat Kohli looked close to his imperious best – that is, until the powerplay ended. Simon Doull suggested that the deceleration was to do with the approach of a milestone. It could well be attributed to his struggle against spin, writes Aadya Sharma.
For the first six overs of RCB’s innings, it was a different Virat Kohli altogether, and I mean it in a good way. There were absolutely no shackles, no resistance against going big and risking his wicket. As every T20 opener should, he was looking to clear the infield consistently. A couple of lofted drives weren’t quite convincing, but it seemed to free his mind. And when he found his groove, he looked unstoppable.
It reached a crescendo when he crunched a four and six off the rapid Mark Wood – currently the joint Purple Cap holder. The first one was a bold expression of where his mind was at, baring all his stumps against the 90-something mph Wood and thumping him down the ground. The second one was an audacious baseball swipe that soared over the ropes.
Was it the day of the sixth? The last of Kohli’s five IPL tons came in 2019, probably his best year until the all-format patch of scratchy form came about.
The powerplay ended, and KL Rahul promptly switched to spin from both ends. Suddenly, it wasn’t the same “different” Kohli. The run rate slowed down, the hits vanished. Kohli tried to break free at times, but the connection just wasn’t coming through.
You could sense the frustration – when he punched a Ravi Bishnoi delivery through the covers for a boundary-less exchange of ends, you could see him gesture in anger. The same happened when a Bishnoi delivery slid down leg – Kohli was livid with himself for failing to make the most of it. He made the “skidding” hand gesture to himself, suggesting that Bishnoi’s deliveries were coming onquicker than he would have anticipated.
He ended up scoring 19 off the next 19 balls, slowing down against the trio of Krunal Pandya, Ravi Bishnoi and Amit Mishra in a relentless counter-attack of spin. The magic vapourised, and we were back to watching Kohli preserve his wicket and measure his strokes.
On commentary, Simon Doull suggested that Kohli’s deceleration stemmed from the pursuit of a milestone, and that he should have kept going. It’s difficult to clearly say if the fifty-run mark – a landmark he has crossed 50 times in his IPL career – made him ditch his ultra-fluent approach. It was more to do with strike rate against spin, a segment of his game Kohli has struggled with in IPL over the last few years.
Overall, against spin, Kohli has struck at 123.96 in IPL, compared to 132.51 against pace. Those numbers, though, experience a sharp dip when looking at the last three seasons.
Against pace, he still strikes at 133.28 (since the start of IPL 2020), but against spin, the number nosedives to 106.68. Out of 479 balls against spin, he’s played out 155 dots, and hit 19 fours and 18 sixes. So, against spin, 184 out of his 511 runs have come through boundary shots, roughly 36 per cent. The same percentage is 55.7 against pace. It also coincides with his batting approach post the powerplay – since 2020, Kohli’s strike rate in the middle overs (7 to 16) reads 111.85.
Two of those powerplay overs were bowled by Krunal Pandya, against whom Kohli has a strike rate of 106.45 from 11 innings. On Monday, he fetched 9 off 6 against him, but he slowed when the leg-spin duo of Ravi Bishnoi and Amit Mishra came about. Against the particular variety of spin, his strike rate in the IPL is 117.24.
His strike rate against spin overall in 2023 is 113.63, a big obstacle in Kohli’s conversion from a good start to a great score. Compare it with his best IPL season – in 2016 – and you can see the difference: in 13 innings, that year, Kohli’s strike rate against spin stood at 152.30. It was also the last time RCB reached an IPL final.
The checked drives for four and the emphatic whips for six are signs of Kohli’s return to form after an extended patch of struggle. He’s currently fourth on the run-getters list this season, and is striking at 147.74 overall, 18 units higher than his career number. A clear chink, though, is the weakness against spin. If that can be overcome, Kohli’s good season could turn great. Maybe, so will RCB’s.