To say Virat Kohli is going through the biggest slump in at least two formats in his career is an understatement. Every great batsman goes through a rough patch and in Kohli’s case this has, rather curiously, coincided with the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. As India clashes with New Zealand in the final of the World Test Championship starting in Southampton from the 18th of June, Kohli would know that there is no bigger stage for him to produce that big international hundred that has eluded him for 18 months. But which Kohli will turn up at Southampton? The one which piled on in excess of 500 runs in England on their last tour in 2018 or the one who has shown signs of being a mortal and is struggling to score big runs since the last one and a half years.
Virat Kohli has not scored an international hundred since November, 2019 when he recorded 136 against Bangladesh in the Day and Night Test in Kolkata. This means that Kohli has not reached three digits in international cricket in 44 innings - that is a staggering statistic especially given the run-machine the Indian captain has been in the period before. This basically means that from scoring a hundred every 6.26 innings till Kolkata 2019, Kohli has not registered one in the next 44 innings!
Kohli’s T20I numbers - both in terms of average and strike rate have improved in this time-frame which means that the dip in form has been in ODIs and in Test cricket. Although he has not been the monstrous big hundred getter in the 50-over format since late 2019, his record in absolute terms - 649 runs in 15 matches at an average of 43.26 and strike rate of 92.45 with 8 fifties - is quite a creditable performance. Of course, it is a significant fall from the exemplary standards he had set for himself averaging above 60 in the format till before.
The concern for India ahead of the WTC Final is that Kohli’s biggest drop has been in Test cricket where has scored just 288 runs in 12 innings (7 Tests) at an average of 24 with three fifties in the period. Worryingly, he has failed completely in 8 of these 12 innings, i.e. two-thirds of the times he has gone out to bat.
Kohli has scored three tough fifties from difficult situations in this time-frame - in the Day and Night Test at the Adelaide Oval and a couple against England in the home series in 2021 in which he has displayed his class and fighting spirit. But, and quite uncharacteristically, he has failed to convert these scores into the big hundreds, something he did with regular consistency before as his 27 hundreds and 25 fifties indicate.
Kohli has gone through a period of 20 or more innings without scoring an international hundred just twice before in his career - he went hundred-less in 24 innings from the 27th of February, 2011 to the 11th of September, 2011 before registering a ton against England in an ODI in Cardiff on the 16th of September.
The second such phase lasted for 25 innings between the Asia Cup in Bangladesh (28th February, 2014) to the ODI home series against the West Indies (11th October, 2014).
This also means that the current phase of 44 innings is soon threatening to cross the combined number of innings of the previous two worst phases in Kohli’s international career.
Kohli’s mode of dismissal in the last 18 months also throws up a few questions. Out of his 12 dismissals, 6 have either been bowled or leg before wicket. He had been bowled just 7 times in 131 dismissals before and lbw on 28 occasions.
His poor form in Tests notwithstanding, Kohli was in scintillating form in England in 2018.
Great Form in England, 2018
Kohli had a woeful run in England in 2014 scoring just 134 runs in 10 innings at a paltry average of 13.4 with no 50-plus score in the series. He failed in six innings registering a single-digit score in 60% of the innings he batted. James Anderson had become Kohli’s nemesis on the tour dismissing him on 4 occasions in 5 matches. He had the Indian captain caught in the slips bowling in the corridor of uncertainty making him drive away from his body playing tentatively outside the off-stump against the swinging delivery.
Kohli returned with renewed purpose in 2018 determined to make amends from what had transpired in 2014. And he did and that too in some style! Although England still won the series, Kohli broke all records and amassed 593 runs in the 5 Tests at an average of 59.3 with two hundreds and three fifties.
Kohli did two things differently in 2018 which worked brilliantly in his favour. He stood outside the crease which meant that he was negating the out-swing generated by Anderson and co. by giving the ball less time to move, meeting it early. Also, he was taking a bigger stride forward which meant that the chances of lbw were severely diminished. Kohli also left the balls outside the off-stump and showed more patience in 2018 frustrating the England bowlers making them bowl straighter to his strengths.
Kohli’s aggregate in 2018 was the third-highest by an Asian batsman in history in England only behind Mohammad Yousuf (631 in 2006) and Rahul Dravid (602 in 2002). His standout knock came in the series opener itself in Birmingham where he hammered 149 off just 225 deliveries scoring 54.38% of India’s first innings total of 274. In a match where other Indian batsmen were struggling to put bat to ball, Kohli was attacking the likes of Anderson, Broad, Stokes and Rashid.
Kohli then produced a Player of the Match performance at Trent Bridge top-scoring for India with 97 and 103 in both the innings. India went on to win the match and made a comeback in the five-match series. He came out to bat at 17 for 2 which worsened to 22 for 3 in the chase at Southampton and took India to 123 before being dismissed. Till he was at the crease, the target of 245 looked within his team’s reach.
Kohli had silenced all his critics and detractors with what was one of the greatest performances by an overseas batsman in a series in England.
India need their skipper to fire in the WTC Final. And Kohli needs a stage like the WTC Final to fire himself and score that inspirational match-defining hundred. What he could not finish in Southampton, 2018, he has a chance to do so now three years after with the stakes exponentially higher. A big performance from Kohli- the batsman could mean a first ICC world title for Kohli - the captain.