Calculated, risk-free and graceful: Virat Kohli has taken his T20 batting to a different level

Virat Kohli's last 10 T20I scores read - 59*, 90*, 1, 43, 66, 77, 72*, 23, 57*, 54*. That is a total of 540 runs at a strike rate of 145.69 and an average of 90.33 - pretty much Bradman-esque, if even such a term could be used in the T20 format. On Friday, in the second T20I against Australia, Kohli again gave everyone a reminder that you don't have to be a slogger or an out-and-out big hitter to succeed in the shortest format of the game.
Grace, with the right application, can trump brute force.

In Melbourne, Kohli took his T20 game to another level and showed tremendous situational awareness to score 59 off 33 balls and played a crucial role again to help his side clinch the T20I series. Generally, the formula for a perfect Kohli innings is to start off cautiously, take time to settle down, slowly pick up the scoring and then go all out. An innings paced with perfection. We've seen this quite frequently in the IPL where he plays a second fiddle to start off, letting the likes of Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers do their thing, before taking the center stage.

On Friday, when he arrived at the crease, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan had already provided a perfect platform with 97 runs from 11 overs. However, this time Kohli took a different approach as he started off aggressively and after just six balls, he cracked three fours off the next four balls off John Hastings. That set the tone and he never relented.

Virat Kohli. Getty Images

Virat Kohli. Getty Images

The hallmark of his innings was his placement. After the first T20I, Dhoni had said this about Kohli, " The important thing is when he is taking the risk of playing the big shot, he calculates it well," Dhoni said in the post-match conference. "It is easy to play the big shot, everybody can play it, but it is how you calculate, and according to your strength take the risk. Then there is more chance of being successful.”

Kohli did just that. It was as if a robotic third eye was fitted in his head as he found the gaps with perfection. He targeted the region through extra cover and over backward point precisely in his mind and took calculated risks.

There was one instance where Kohli mistimed a loft over extra cover off Hastings but it was a safe shot and sped away to the fence as it was in the gap. And that's where Dhoni's statement provides a bigger picture. There were steers, inside out lofts and slices. He kept charging or giving room in order to unsettle the bowlers and then carved intelligent shots in the gaps. 47% of his runs were scored between cover and long off region - where there were no fielders - including five of his nine boundaries (four 4s and one 6.)

Even the Australian captain Aaron Finch was in awe of Kohli's abililties to find the gaps after the first T20I and there's nothing much he could do in the second match as well. "Virat doesn't seem to hit too many fielders, so it doesn't really matter where you put them," Finch said at the post match press conference after the first T20I.

"He is just in unbelievable form at the moment and the wickets are very good. The way he uses his hands, his feet, he is a pretty complete player. When you are looking to restrict his scoring, he can work it into the gaps and he runs hard, always putting pressure back on the bowler. That's what makes him such a great player.”

Kohli’s self-assessment adds perspective too. "I can't hit long sixes so might as well work on my strengths, I like to keep my shape and pick the gaps in the field and rely on my timing," Kohli said after receiving the Man of the Match in Melbourne. "I feel I can time the ball well and beat fielders to the left or the right, so I pretty much stick to what I know best and don't try and complicate game too much.”

It's a no-brainer that the Australians would have prepared some plans for Kohli, but nothing seems to be working at the moment.
"The way Virat comes out, the way he's hitting the ball, it's incredible. We certainly had specific plans for him. We did not bowl too badly to him at all. It's just how well he's hitting the ball," Shane Watson said in the post-match conference.

Another important part about Kohli's batting is his ability to finish off the innings and carry the bat through. He made an unbeaten 90 in the last match and at the MCG too, he remained not out. In the last 10 innings he's remained not out four times which is pretty good for someone coming in at No 3. This might somehow provide relief to Dhoni considering his finishing and lower-order woes.

In the last two years (Since 1 January 2014), Virat Kohli has averaged 96.33 in T20Is, the next best average is 45.57 - of Kane Williamson, for players to have scored minimum 500 runs, which shows the gulf in class. Kohli is currently the only batsman to have an average in excess of 50 in T20Is - 50.65 from 30 innings, the next best is 41.61.

Averaging 50 in T20Is is just mind-boggling. "He can even bat at midnight without light and still bat well," Gavaskar said about Kohli after the 2nd T20I. He's been unstoppable lately and if he continues at the same rate, he is close to achieving greatness in all the three formats of the game.

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Updated Date: Jan 30, 2016 16:15:55 IST

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