November 2019 was the last time when Virat Kohli raised his bat for a 100 in international cricket. That was a day-night Test match at Eden Gardens in Kolkata against the touring Bangladesh team. Since then, Kohli has played 71 innings in international cricket across formats, and the 71st hundred continues to elude him. It is not that the batting form has completely evaded him as he is still scoring runs. But what is missing is consistency. The world’s mannerism has gotten used to ever since he made his international debut in August 2008 against Sri Lanka. He continues to score runs and make the fifties, but the sheer dominance of the master is missing. One interesting eyebrow-raising fact is that Kohli has never remained not out in his 21 innings since his last ODI hundred. So, Virat, the chase master, has also gone missing. It is a glaring statistic for a batsman who prides on chasing down targets in ODIs. Even in the ongoing IPL of 2022, Kohli has notched up only one-half century, having played 11 games till now. So, what exactly can get the Indian stalwart back to form?
A long break is needed
One can only speculate, with Kohli’s type of personality, the Covid bio-bubbles might have something to do with the downslide in his form. The restriction on fans’ entry may be taking a toll on Kohli, who loves to interact with them on the ground. Playing almost continuously through COVID-19 and staying in bio-bubbles can be mentally tough on players, and Kohli is no different either. Ravi Shastri has also pointed out, “I am going straight to the main guy here. Virat Kohli is overcooked. If anyone needs a break, it’s him. Whether it’s 2 months or a month-and-a-half, it’s after England or before England.” Maybe a long break is what the master needs at the moment.
Playing along the ground
Since his debut, Kohli’s game has been built on playing grounded, exquisite strokes. His game was based on piercing the gaps with extreme precision and running hard for runs. At the end of innings is only when he goes aerial. In limited over games, he adopts this method, and he has been extremely successful at it. It has been observed that Kohli has been hitting the ball in the air a lot since the very start of his innings. Eventually, he is getting out after being caught. Kohli needs to return to his tried and trusted formula of batting, and probably the runs will start flowing again. The 2016 T20 World Cup innings at Mohali against Australia is the prime example of this style of play.
Assessing his game against spinners
Kohli made his debut as a Test captain against Australia in the Adelaide Test in 2014. He scored a century in both the innings of the Test match and almost brought India to the brink of victory single-handedly. One key feature was how Kohli tackled Nathan Lyon in both the innings. He played Lyon with extreme ease on a turning track at Adelaide, attacking and defending the spinner at will. Kohli’s game against spinners has gone down a lot in the past couple of years. He has been losing his wicket quite frequently. One of the problems is that Kohli is not picking the length of the ball from spinners early and eventually getting out. It may be time for Kohli to review this deficiency that has crept into his game. He can even add sweep and use of feet to his repertoire to play spinners better.
Playing close to the body
In 2014, Kohli’s form had gone for a slump in the England Test series. He averaged only 13.50 in all those 10-test innings. James Anderson was all over him, bowling 5th-6th stump line and getting his wicket. The same old problem is again hampering his game. He is playing deliveries way outside off-stump with hard hands and is getting out. Kohli must tighten this aspect of this game and play close to his body to return to his merry way of scoring runs. Sachin 241* without cover drive against Australia in the 2003 Sydney test can serve as a nice tutorial for him.
Leaving one form of cricket
Kohli currently is playing in all formats of International cricket, comprising Test matches, ODIs and T20s. Apart from this, he also plays in every season of IPL. With so much cricket being played, it is not easy for Kohli to be at his best in every game. Virat is 33 years of age as of today. Going by the average retirement age of cricketers, he still has 6-7 years of cricket left. Maybe Kohli can decide on hanging his boots in either one of the formats. This will ensure him enough breaks between International games and also help him prolong his career. He will get a good time to work on his game and fitness.
India need the dominant Kohli of old, the Kohli full of confidence, instilling fear in the opponents, scoring hundreds at will, chasing down targets with ease. With T20 World Cup round the corner, World Test Championship final berth hanging by a slender thread and the ODI World Cup next year, India needs fit and firing Kohli more than ever before. Virat needs to review his career at this point.