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The Tim Southee threat that awaits Virat Kohli in the World Test Championship Final

Southee has dismissed Kohli 10 times in international cricket
by Rohit Sankar 3 minute read

A key battle to watch out for in the World Test Championship final — Tim Southee might well be the biggest threat for India’s skipper Virat Kohli.

The numbers are out there for anyone to see — 10 dismissals across formats, the most by any bowler against Kohli. Southee, whose journey in international cricket has largely coincided with that of Kohli since the under -19 days, has developed a knack for working over the leading Indian batsman.

While he has only dismissed Kohli thrice in five Test matches and the remaining dismissals came in ODIs, only a few have come with Kohli looking to take the charge against the New Zealand bowler in white-ball cricket.

Southee’s plan to Kohli has pretty much been similar all the way: keep the ball in the channel and if one seams in, you bring both edges into play. The odd bouncer has also worked to the Blackcaps bowler’s advantage.

The dismissals on the 2020 tour of New Zealand are a classic case in point of where Southee targets Kohli. In the ODI series, he set up Kohli with a series of outswingers before going wider off the crease to angle one back in and take out his middle and leg stump.

In the Test at Christchurch, a similar plan played out: the away swingers outside off-stump kept coming before one seamed back in and trapped Kohli plumb in front.

Recently, Kohli’s childhood coach said in an interview that the batsman might have to leash in his cover drive to counter Southee’s threat, especially if the ball is swinging. The coach might well be on point.

In New Zealand’s first Test against England last week, the Kiwi quicks found more than 2.6° of swing in the first 10 overs according to CricViz, the second-most by any visiting side after Southee-Boult themselves in 2015.

It isn’t all just swing, though, with Southee’s impeccable skillsets coming through in his dismissal of Zak Crawley — in a template that must feel pretty familiar to Kohli — where he went wider off the crease and sucked the batsman into a loose drive.

It largely remains his template, especially against batters prepared to go aggressive on him. Ollie Pope was greeted with a similar setup and he didn’t survive long either as he was beaten on the inside edge by one that eventually moved back in after a series of ones going away.

Kohli, whose troubles against Jimmy Anderson on the 2014 England tour are well known, counters swing by batting well outside his crease, a method that found him in success in 2018 in England. But against Southee’s sharp cricketing brain and extraordinary skills, it will require some doing.

The New Zealand bowler has hit a purple patch in the WTC, snapping up 51 wickets in 10 Tests in the tournament at an average a shade above 20. With him surrounded by bowlers like Trent Boult, Kyle Jamieson, and Neil Wagner, there really has been no leeway for batters and Southee has been allowed to set them up at will.

Varying his release points has been a constant for Southee in his Test career and Kohli will need to watch out for one that shapes back in from a wider angle when the World Test Championship final gets underway. That’s not to say there’s no sharp bouncer — another underrated weapon up Southee’s sleeve — instead of waiting to prize out the Indian skipper.

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