Redefining batting

Cricket: With his unprecedented success across all three formats, Virat Kohli is setting new benchmarks

Redefining batting
The one standout feature of Virat Kohli’s 204 against Bangladesh in the ongoing one-off Test was the strike rate – a staggering 82.92 – he achieved. Come to think of it, since the start of this grand season in the West Indies in June-July 2016 to his latest double hundred on Friday in Hyderabad, he has brought up 1419 runs at a strike rate of around 63 which is phenomenal for the longer format. It’s not to say that none before him batted in this fashion.

Not too long ago, the likes of Matthew Hayden (career strike rate of 60.10), Ricky Ponting (58.72) and Adam Gilchrist (81.95) redefined the way batting in Test matches was approached. Virender Sehwag (82.23) did that quite successfully at the top of the order for India while David Warner (78.80) continues to do so for Australia. What, however, sets Kohli apart is the fact that he manages the high strike rate without taking any risk, well almost.

His brilliance lies in maintaining high scoring rate without sacrificing the basic tenets of Test batsmanship. The miscued lofted four that helped him move from 199 to 203 on Friday was the only shot that was quite uncharacteristic of his batting in recent times. The fact that more than 50 percent (108) of his 204 runs against Bangladesh came in singles, twos and one three and yet he managed an 80-plus strike rate shows how well he has allied the intent of limited-overs cricket with Test cricket’s purpose. 

In scoring 1419 runs stretching from the Caribbean tour in mid-2016, Kohli has hit just two sixes, exemplifying his restraint and the sense of responsibility. Also, the fact that India these days play with just five specialist batsmen has also contributed to Kohli curbing his natural aggressive instincts.  

“It has been a conscious effort,” he admitted when pointed to the absence of sixes during the England series. “Many times I felt like I can go after the spinners but I understand that I need to go in that extra hour or two hours for the team. I don’t feel the necessity to hit sixes, it (hitting sixes) is just an excitement of the batsman crossing 150, 160, (which) you feel like expressing yourself. But then I realise that if I am scoring at 3 or 4 an over without trying to hit a boundary, I don’t necessarily need to take that big risk at any stage and cost the team some momentum.

“If the management and I have decided to play five batsmen, it obviously makes up my mind to take some more responsibility out there in the middle rather than doing what I want to do. So, it is about finding ways to understanding what the team’s needs and still be positive and at the same time. That’s the balance you need to strike at the international level, you can’t just go there and play your own game and say ‘that’s the way I play’. You have to adjust to what the team wants, what combination you play and give the team some solidity in the middle accordingly,” he had explained.

The change perhaps occurred during India’s tour of Australia in 2014-15 when he brought up his first 140-plus innings. The highest in his previous seven Test tons was 115 which also came on the same tour. Since that 141 in Adelaide, Kohli has converted eight of his nine hundreds into 140-plus scores, including four double hundreds.

Speaking to after his innings in Hyderabad, Kohli attributed his success to controlled aggression and a never-satiating hunger for runs.

“I think it is because of captaincy that you tend to go on more than you would as a batsman,” he said. “I think there is no room for complacency when you become the captain. I have always wanted to play long innings. My first seven-eight (seven) hundreds were not even 120-plus scores and after that I made a conscious effort to bat long. I controlled my excitement and worked on not getting complacent at any stage.”

Another major factor in Kohli’s unparalleled run with the bat has been his work ethic. He maintains an ultra-disciplined lifestyle and makes no compromises with his training. The amount of effort he puts in to prepare himself for the challenges is obvious in the results we are seeing. While the general fitness standards of Indian cricketers have gone a notch higher, Kohli is at a different level. The intensity with which he runs between wickets and sustains the tempo for hours on end is quite “unIndian.” This is one of the primary reasons why he has been able to churn out more “daddy hundreds” (big centuries) now than in the first few of years of his Test career.  

“I have worked on my fitness over the years,” he noted. “I feel like I can go on for longer periods. I don’t get tired as much as I used to before. I definitely don’t get satisfied when I get a Test hundred which was the case before because I used to give too much importance to Test cricket. Now, I have just started to treat it as any (other) game of cricket and I have to keep going on till the time my team needs me to,” he offered.
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