Virat Kohli: The Limited Overs Green-Track Bully?
The year is 2014, the venue is the Oval. Opener Gautham Gambhir has just been run out after attempting a suicidal single, leaving India in the precarious position of 9/2. India had succumbed to an atrocious 148 in the first innings and England responded with an emphatic 486, with Joe Root scoring an unbeaten 149. Virat Kohli now walks out to bat with India still trailing by 329, 2-1 down in the series. The pressure on his shoulders is indescribable, having just scored 114 runs in nine innings up to this point. This is his last chance to salvage some dignity.
Wickets are falling all around him. Cheteshwar Pujara knicks off to the sublime James Anderson, before Ajinkya Rahane and captain MS Dhoni fall in quick succession. Kohli, however, remains relatively solid. He has worked his way to a solid 20 – a good start but he needs to convert. Chris Jordan has a different idea though, luring Kohli into playing across the line, resulting in an outside edge to Alastair Cook’s safe hands at slip. Kohli’s fate is sealed. 134 runs in five Tests, with a high score of 39 and average of 13 makes for grim reading.
That’s when we first hear the term ‘flat-track bully’. It is a term that still haunts him today. After scoring prolifically in Australia and South Africa, both in Tests and limited overs matches, Kohli just needs to conquer England for that status to be diminished entirely.
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Since that abysmal tour, Kohli has proven himself to be a more than competent batsman outside of Asia – especially in limited overs cricket where his record is almost better overseas. Has he now emerged from being a ‘flat-track bully’ to a limited overs ‘green-track bully’?
Fast forward several years on from that shambolic tour of England to the present day, India’s captain is currently scoring runs for fun in South Africa. Kohli top scored in the Test series, averaging close to fifty in tough batting conditions where the highest team score was just 335 and where one pitch was nearly deemed unplayable. Moreover, he was up against arguably the best seam attack in the world, consisting of upcoming talent Lungi Ngidi, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada.
Nothing has changed in the ODI series. Kohli already has 393 runs in four matches with an average touching on 200. While his performance in the Test series was somewhat surprising, the same cannot be said about his dominance in the ODI series. Kohli’s overseas ODI record is almost as good as his home record, especially on green tops.
Kohli seems to thrive on green pitches in ODI cricket. His average of 58 in India is undisputably a high figure, but it is actually better in various other countries. Notably, Kohli averages over 50 in Australia and England, along with averages of over 60 in New Zealand and close to 80 in South Africa. In comparison, his ODI record is the worst in Sri Lanka and the West Indies – pitches which are actually more similar to Indian conditions.
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In a cricketing era where biased home pitches cause lots of criticism, Kohli has proven that a quality batsman can seamlessly adapt to all conditions.
In many ways, you can see why green pitches benefit Kohli in limited overs cricket. The pace on the ball at the start of his innings is key, it allows him to steer the ball into gaps or drop and run. Runs down to third man are also vital for him, as he utilises any away movement and bounce to guide the ball down. Once he is set the old maxim ‘the quicker it comes the quicker it goes’ comes into play. This has become his natural game all over the world.
As Kohli goes from strength to strength, India’s upcoming tour of England lurks in the background. This will be the hardest challenge he faces all year. If he can silence his critics and score freely in England, Kohli’s status as a flat-track bully will finally disintegrate and perhaps he will even be hailed as a ‘green-track bully’.