Skilful players are always in great demand, but when India and Pakistan lock horns on the cricket field, often it is temperament that gets tested the most. No wonder both sides depend more on their seasoned players in these nerve-wracking games. The pressure is far more than any other contest because of the emotional involvement of their supporters.
Thus, it is no surprise that Virat Kohli has proved a big factor in India versus Pakistan games. We need to look no further than their last match – the T20 World Cup tie at Melbourne last year. It was a phase when Kohli wasn’t really batting at his best. Still, he managed to make a decisive contribution and take India to victory with a heroic unbeaten 82. It was proof that no one can hold their nerve better than the India stalwart.
Kohli’s T20 record against Pakistan is mind-boggling, but Pakistan will be equally wary of his one-day exploits against them in big games. The last ODI between the arch-rivals was at the 2019 World Cup in which Kohli smashed 77 in a match-dominating partnership with Rohit Sharma.
In his last four ODIs against Pakistan, there’s only one failure when he was out for five in the final of the 2017 Champions Trophy that India lost. At the 2015 Word Cup, Kohli was Man-of-the-Match for his 107. There’s no gainsaying that he has a special liking for the Pakistan attack which started with a glorious 183 in the 2012 Asia Cup game at Mirpur, which was only his fourth ODI against them. Ever since he has been a thorn in their flesh.
The reason for Kohli’s success as a game-changer in such high-stakes games is his inherent aggressiveness and the ability to absorb pressure. He plays according to the team’s needs and has a knack of pacing his innings as per the flow of the game.
As the cricket world looks forward to another blockbuster clash between the two talented outfits, Kohli is gearing up with focussed training at India’s ongoing preparatory camp for the Asia Cup at the Karnataka State Cricket Association’s facility in Alur, on the outskirts of Bengaluru.
From the training videos put out by broadcaster Star Sports, Kohli’s batting sessions have been focused on attacking spin against the likes of leg-spinners Rahul Chahar and Varun Chakaravarthy and left-arm spinners Shams Mulani. Kohli has been spending equal time facing left-arm pace as well.
In the videos, Kohli looks in ominous touch with sure footwork and fluent timing. The rhythm in his batting has been back for some time now with a series of hundreds in all formats proof of that – he has three hundreds in ODIs since December 2022. Star Sports expert Sanjay Bangar, who has worked a long time with Kohli while he was India batting coach and then at Royal Challengers Bangalore, attributed the batter’s improved form and footwork to making an adjustment in his backlift.
“In between there was a phase when he was playing with a high backlift (preloaded backlift). Now he is playing with a bat tap. The benefit of bat-tap is your eyesight is very steady, you judge the length of the ball very well. As a result, his shot-making has been very good in the last six-eight months,” Bangar said on the sports channel.
In his practice against spinners, Kohli is seen targetting the midwicket region with big shots. According to Bangar, it is a well-thought strategy by Kohli to play with the field the opposition is likely to employ against him.
“Everyone is aware that Virat doesn’t like to play sweep shots, most of the teams have a short fine-leg, the square-leg fielder is slightly square not fine, and there is a man at midwicket, so a very big area that Kohli targets is to deep midwicket and the left side of the deep square-leg fielder. He played a lot of shots there; apart from that he played a lot of shots on the backfoot. He uses the depth of the crease quite well,” said Bangar.
India batters’ issues against left-arm pace have been nothing new and extra focus in training has been on playing the left-armers. Kohli too is seen dividing equal time between playing spin and left-arm pacer Aniket Choudhary. Kohli and Co want to be ready for Afridi, who wreaked havoc in the 2021 T20 World Cup game at Dubai by removing Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul in quick succession with his sharp, fast swing.
The key is to ensure that your head doesn’t fall over, which happens if you play across. Bangar said: “When a left-arm pacer is bringing the ball in, the head position has to be really good. You look to play the ball between mid-off and mid-on-midwicket (arc), then you will be in a very good position.”