How NZ Planned and Executed Virat Kohli’s Slump in Their Backyard
Virat Kohli scored just one half century during the entire tour of New Zealand.
Virat Kohli averaged 26.25, 25 and 9.50 in the T20I, ODI and Test series in New Zealand, making it one of his worst overseas tours ever.
The Indian skipper's no-show, emphasised by the fact that Mohammed Shami scored more runs than him in the Test series, wasn't merely a slump in form that batsmen endure after going through streaks of purple patch.
Rather, it was some brilliant planning and excellent execution from the Kiwis that led to his downfall. Here we take a glance at New Zealand's drawing board that had more than a fair share of pins on Kohli.
Plot A: Dry Up Scoring Opportunities
"Drying him up, making sure they don't score and putting a lot of pressure on him from both ends," was Neil Wagner's reply when asked about the plans he had against Virat Kohli in an interview on a New Zealand publication ahead of the Christchurch Test match.
Choking Virat Kohli for runs has always been New Zealand's plan against him. When the swashbuckling Kohli came to the country in 2014 as a youngster on top of his game, New Zealand's plan was to silence him with dot balls. They earmarked Hamish Bennett - who made a return in the limited-overs leg this series - to do the job after Kohli started well in the series in 2014. Bennett bowled 14 dots and a single in 15 deliveries in that ODI and dismissed Kohli, a sequence of deliveries where he gave no room to the batsman and packed the off-side with fielders.
This series, yet again, New Zealand were spot on in their execution against the Indian skipper. Kohli made scores of 2(7), 19(43), 3(15) and 14(30) in the Test series, his strike rate in the series standing at a paltry 40, his worst in any Test series in the SENA countries.
Purists might point out that strike rate holds little importance in Tests, but a fidgety batsman like Kohli likes to start his innings on a positive note and the Black Caps denied him this luxury by cutting down his scoring areas and opportunities. This led the Indian batsman to make errors he wouldn't have normally made.
Plot B: The England Plan
At Trent Bridge in the series against England in 2014, Virat Kohli was treated to a series of eight deliveries outside his off-stump, on a fourth stump channel, by Stuart Broad and James Anderson. The wicket-taking ball, though, is delivered from wide of the stumps but zooming in on a similar channel. The angle and point of release flummoxes Kohli into believing that he has to play at the ball and he nicks through.
England's fourth-stump plan to Virat Kohli is pretty famous and this was just one of many instances of Kohli being dismissed by the English in this fashion. The unsaid aspect of this plan is how going wider off the crease and getting the ball to straighten can fool most batsmen, including someone of the stature of Kohli.
New Zealand merely perfected this plan with Tim Southee taking on the responsibility of putting Kohli in two minds. Kyle Jamieson too chipped in with a similar plot, although he teased Kohli with a series of balls on fourth stump and then tossed one even wider to force him to free himself up. Southee's plan, though, was closer to England's own discovery of Kohli's weakness.
In the first innings at Christchurch and in the second ODI at Auckland, Southee had Kohli without the help of fielders with this very plan. He went wider at the crease after a series of fourth stump deliveries and made Kohli long for bat on ball, only to take the ball away and dismiss him. The Kiwis seamer had an outstanding Test series and was a key figure in New Zealand bringing about Kohli's downfall.
Plot C: The Tentative Shuffle
Kohli is so good against pace that it's more often than not futile to test him on the pull or flick with 150kmph deliveries. However, slow up the pace and create subtle movement and Kohli isn't as extravagant or sure of his flick shot as his head falls over in the eagerness to reach the ball that is coming slower than he thinks.
Colin de Grandhomme exploited this brilliantly at Christchurch in the second innings when he had the Indian skipper with a peach of a delivery. The full delivery from New Zealand's seemingly innocuous medium pacer cut back in as Kohli went in search of a forward defense with his head falling over. The ball rapped the pads and even a judicious reviewer like Kohli, with a helpless Pujara at the non-striker's end, chose to not review this decision.
This is another area teams have exploited against Kohli. Notably in the Cape Town Test in South Africa in 2018 and the Centurion Test in 2019, Vernon Philander and Lungi Ngidi dismissed Kohli with similar deliveries. Like with the other two plans, execution is key to dismissing someone like Kohli, and Colin de Grandhomme was accurate to the T in executing the backroom plan.
A perfect concoction of these plans were on full display right through the tour as New Zealand, off the back of a 0-5 whitewash in the T20Is, thumped India 3-0 and 2-0 in the ODIs and Tests respectively. Pivotal to their series win was the manner in which they plotted and brought about the downfall of one of modern cricket's greatest batsman.
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