In consecutive days Virat Kohli was trapped plumb in front to deliveries that seamed in. On both occasions, Kohli was guilty of planting his front foot and playing around his pad. Kohli has been a major disappointment in the series having scored a paltry 38 in four innings. He has been dismissed by four different bowlers but there has been a technical glitch that has led to his poor run.
Kohli the batsman is about showing intent. He is a front foot dominant batsman meaning he gains his power and control from on his left foot. At his peak, like England 2018, Australia 2014/15, or his century at Perth in 2018, three elements work in perfect synchronization. First, his left foot is nimble, his head is always above his front leg and then there is a giant stride towards the ball. When all three have worked in co-ordination, Kohli is Kohli.
During the New Zealand series, the first issue Kohli has had is that his front foot has not been as agile. Observe his two dismissals in Christchurch, his front foot is already planted a split second after the ball is released by the bowler. It seems premeditated rather than reactive action. In an ideal world, Kohli's front foot would be nimble, his front toe pressed on the ground on the line of leg-stump and ready to move towards the line of the ball. But at the Hagley Oval, the front leg is more on the line of middle stump. The foot is rigid, already firmly grounded at the point of release which prevents Kohli from getting a big stride towards the line of the ball.
The other problem is the head position. Generally, Kohli is a master at ensuring his head is on the top of the front leg at the point of contact. But with a minimal step towards the ball, it has meant his head has stayed back hence affecting his transfer of weight. As often is the case when the head and the foot are not moving to the ball, it causes the hands to push away from the body. The reason Kohli was trapped in front is because of his hands getting out in front and creating a gap between bat and pad.
In the first innings at the Basin Reserve, Kohli was caught while playing a cover drive because he had failed to transfer his weight onto the ball. Similarly, in the first and second innings at the Hagley Oval, the lack of movement onto the ball has led to his demise.
Throughout the tour, Kohli has spent countless hours trying to ensure that bat meets ball under his eyes. Days before the second Test, he had coach Ravi Shastri observe him from the side position. The other factor that hasn't helped Kohli is the sluggishness of the New Zealand pitches. After the Wellington Test, he stated that rather than the swing, seam or pace, it was the lack of pace of the surface that was the major problem for the Indian batsmen. Kohli's problem of pushing hard with his hands becomes further accentuated on pitches where the ball is not arriving as he expects. The technical problem may be minimal, but it has exposed Kohli against the seaming ball.
Kohli is a great batsman and chances are he would have discovered the problem on his own. During the warm-up match in Hamilton, all his focus was on driving the ball and his front foot defence. But in the lead-up to the first and second Tests, there were a handful of times in the practice sessions when he was undone by the incoming ball by either Mohammad Shami or even a net bowler.
There is no doubt that the New Zealand bowlers deserve plenty of credit for working on a weakness. Tim Southee managed to bowl a dozen balls on the 7th stump line and then jag one back in. Colin de Grandhomme continued to test the front foot stride before eventually sneaking one between bat and pad.
Perhaps the schedule worked against Kohli. He might have not got enough time to sort out the issue or perhaps it was just pure fatigue. What will hurt the Indian skipper the most is that he has not been able to contribute and it could result in a 2-0 Test series loss.
At the end of the day's play, Trent Boult was asked about Kohli's twin failures in Christchurch to which he stated "I think that's a question for Southee or for Colin [de Grandhomme], but I think they call that natural variation, pretty much, it's just one of those things. You're trying to bowl a certain ball, and you slightly get a bit of variation with whatever, but yeah, the bowling group as a whole, I think the approach is to not give them too many soft deliveries, group the ball nicely, and then let that natural variation take care of itself. Yeah, we're lucky to get two that lined up and hit him on the pads nicely, and yeah, it was a good feeling to see the back of him."
It has been a horrible tour for Kohli, but if he can captain India to a victory tomorrow, the deficiencies in his batting will be forgotten.
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It was also New Zealand's first loss in 16 home Tests over the past four years.
Virat Kohli signs off as India's most successful Test captain of all time with 40 wins from 68 matches, having taken over the role from MS Dhoni in the 2014-15 tour of Australia
Virat Kohli is India's most successful Test captain with the team winning 40 out of 68 matches under him.