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December 1, 2020

The Chhattisgarh

Beyond The Region

Risk v reward, and a rare Virat Kohli rut

ategories for logging shots played by batsmen have changed over the years, but counting “cover drive”, “off side drive on front foot” and “off drive” as descriptions of roughly similar shots (while leaving “off side drive on back foot” out of this far-from-scientific exercise), Kohli has scored more runs with it than any other shot in his Test career: 1911, off 1719 balls, with 282 fours and three sixes in the mix.

He plays the shot brilliantly, and scores exceptionally quickly with it. He has a great eye, wonderful hands and wrists, and one of the longest front-foot strides in the game. This means he can play cover drives off a far wider range of lengths than most other batsmen. He can cover-drive balls that other batsmen might square-cut. More often, he’ll cover-drive balls that other batsmen might leave.

And so, while scoring as many runs as he does with this shot (spectrum of shots, to put it more accurately), he also gets out playing it, quite a lot. He’s been out to it 25 times, which is as many times as he’s been out defending, except it’s taken him 3045 balls to get out as often while defending.

Kohli knows the risk-reward equation that comes with playing the shot this frequently, and he’s weighed it up and resolved to keep playing it, against every bowler and in nearly all types of conditions. And his judgment of when to play it is right far more often than it’s wrong; he wouldn’t average 54.30 otherwise.

When he attempted the shot off Kyle Jamieson in India’s first innings at Basin Reserve last week, while batting on 2, and nicked it to slip, it may have therefore been a less terrible shot than it seemed at first glance. Especially when you consider that Jamieson had pushed Kohli back with his previous delivery, a well-directed short ball that climbed towards the batsman’s throat.

But the early dismissal came on the back of seven limited-overs innings, all on this tour, in which he’d made a solitary fifty, 51 in the first ODI in Hamilton.

It’s unwise to make too much of a run of scores that straddles formats, especially one that includes multiple T20I games, but it wasn’t just the scores.

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