A roar from the crowd as he comes to the crease, a quick dismissal, a look of disbelief, and an exasperated walk back to the pavilion. There has been an unsettling consistency to Virat Kohli’s performance in Indian Premier League 2022.
The former India captain, arguably the greatest white-ball batter in history, is probably going through the worst patch of his career. After nine games in IPL 2022, he has a total of just 128 runs to his name at a strike-rate of 119.62.
Kohli’s latest low score came in Royal Challengers Bangalore’s defeat to Rajasthan Royals on Tuesday. He was promoted to the opener’s slot but that didn’t help as he was dismissed in the second over. And this came after he registered back-to-back ducks in the IPL for the first time. Golden ducks at that.
Kohli's overall batting stats in IPL 2022
Kohli's innings in IPL 2022
Luck is a term that’s been used frequently to describe Kohli’s dismissals this season, and there is indeed merit to that argument.
Against Mumbai Indians, he narrowly missed out on a half-century after a contentious LBW decision. Against Delhi Capitals and in RCB’s first match against RR, he got run-out on the back of some excellent fielding. And against Chennai Super Kings, he timed the ball perfectly only to find the lone fielder in the deep behind square.
However, along with these moments of misfortune, Kohli has also had a number of uncharacteristically tentative bits of batting.
Against Kolkata Knight Riders, he had a familiar dismissal as he edged a ball outside off stump after poking at it. Against Lucknow Super Giants, he played a nothing shot straight to point. And against Sunrisers Hyderabad, he lost balance and played the wrong line to a ball that was angled away but hardly moved.
Despite his lack of runs, though, RCB have consistently expressed faith in Kohli’s ability to bounce back.
Here’s what RCB coach Sanjay Bangar had to say after the defeat against RR:
“He (Kohli) is a great player and has seen many ups and downs in his career. I’ve seen him from close quarters and I know he is a fighter. The spirit he has will help him emerge stronger from this run of low scores and make us win games.
“We haven’t had any different sort of chats with him. The way he prepares, he always gets himself out of his comfort zone and this is his speciality. And this is the reason he can overcome difficult situations, which is commendable. So I would just want him to use his fighting spirit and the way he’s played all his cricket to put this run of low scores behind him. He has such mental toughness that I am sure he will win us important matches going forward.”
It’s no secret that Kohli has steadily moved away from his best since around the time he got his last international century in November 2019. Despite that, there was always hope for his elusive 71st ton because he looked fluent on most occasions. And that is precisely what the concern is at the moment – he simply isn’t looking comfortable at the crease. It’s not like he’s playing those familiar, confident drives before getting out. It just seems a battle for survival.
In the match against RR on Tuesday, he nearly flicked the third ball to short square-leg. “Maybe that’s the luck he needs,” said the commentator. Two balls later, he slashed unconvincingly and got an inside edge for four. “I think his luck is back,” was the comment on air. Next ball, another inside edge. And then three dot balls later, he went too early for a pull shot only to get a bottom edge to point. It was a bizarre yet fitting dismissal.
Kohli looking stunned after being dismissed isn’t new. Who can forget the look on his face after being bowled by Adil Rashid during an ODI in August 2018? But the difference then was that he would perish after being on top. The disbelief stemmed from a sense of superiority. It was more about ‘how did you manage to beat me square?’ But now, that stunned look seems more about ‘how has this happened again?’
For the longest time, the question around Kohli was: when will he score his next century? From that, it went to: when will he return to his best? And now, the question seems to be: will he return to his best?
It’s worth remembering that this is a challenging new phase for Kohli in his career. From being the leader at RCB and the Indian team for a long time, he is now just another player in franchise and international cricket. It must surely be a tough transition. But the lack of responsibility was also expected to free him up as a batter. And despite his full commitment, which includes some top-notch fielding, the runs have only kept drying up.
Bangalore have won five out of nine games so far and could find themselves in contention for a playoff spot. It’s also worth mentioning that India, too, have a number of important assignments coming up, including a T20 World Cup. With the stakes high, the question remains: will Kohli find his best?
His teammates and fans will certainly hope that this bad patch can be filed under ‘form is temporary, class in permanent’ soon.