News Sports

Virat Kohli: How he learned to stop worrying and love the slog sweep again

From an acquaintance of the past, the shot has become one of his best friends this edition of the IPL.

Less than a couple weeks after he went rogue and lashed his critics for delving into his strike rate, Virat Kohli on Thursday faced the camera to make the point that he was working “to keep the strike rate up.” This, after having breezed to 92 off just 47 deliveries.

“I am certainly not a guy who wants to sit around saying this is the way I play and not improve on things I need to,” Kohli stated in one of his typical longish post-match chats. Taking more risks was put on the agenda, especially against the spinners. It’s been a particular weakness of his. In T20s, Kohli’s strike rate drops when he’s facing spinners (124.99) as opposed to the pacers (139.88). His discomforts against the turning ball had come at large over the past year and his defence of it had been a recurring feature of last month’s live broadcast outburst. Last night though, he accepted the flaw and opened up on a solution—a particular shot he has shied away from for much of his career.

“I brought out the slog-sweep to the spinners. I just mentally put myself in that situation, never practised it at all. I know I can hit it (slog-sweep) because I have hit it in the past,” he said.

It is not like Kohli didn’t possess the sweep, but just that it was as not instinctive as some of his other strokes. He would rather flick, glide or drive the balls that some of his colleagues, especially from the red-soil-groomed regions, would sweep. Even against spinners on raging turners, he would deploy the sweep as the last option. Take for instance his Test highest of 254 not out versus South Africa in 2019. The innings of 33 fours and a brace of six featured just two slog-sweeps (or sweep of any variety).

But in T20s, with the thrust to find more boundaries, he has discovered the utility of the slog-sweep. “I need to take a bit more risks. That’s allowing me to hit that shot off the back foot as well. I have tried to expose that side of the field as well, which for me has been a massive factor in this IPL,” Kohli conceded.

Against Punjab, Kohli deployed a couple of slog-sweeps in the latter half of his innings during his takedown of the spinners. Liam Livingstone was at the receiving end on both occasions. The first one – off a fullish delivery on the middle and leg stump – wasn’t timed to perfection but was muscled fiercely enough to get it over the infield for four. On the second go, the execution was far better and made him look a natural. Livingstone offered a bit of extra air on the ball and dished it outside the off stump. Kohli’s eyes lit up as he got down on one knee and took a big stride forward to crunch it for a flat six over the mid-wicket region.

Go-to stroke

It wasn’t the only occasion during this season when he’d turned to the particular stroke. During his much-discussed ton against the Rajasthan Royals – for strike rate reasons – one Yuzvendra Chahal had been at the receiving end of it. Picking the ball from the fifth stump and going down on one knee, Kohli had put his forward reach to test as he dispatched another flat six – this time over wide long-on. That he was able to tonk it clean off a good length delivery made it all the more special.

His strikes against Gujarat’s Noor Ahmad though, on the day of his fiery monologue, must’ve felt extra sweet. For one, it came against a left-arm spinner of some nuance. The 19-year-old Afghan wrist-spinner has come across as a mirror-image of Rashid Khan. Kohli’s record against his kind has been even substandard. His strike rate combating left-arm spinners in T20 reads a measly 119.32. A vulnerability that was out in the open earlier in the season.

Facing Lucknow’s debutant M Siddarth, Kohli had looked a pale shadow of himself as he rushed down the track and lost his shape. The back leg hung in the air as he made contact with the ball and his eyes weren’t underneath – as they generally are – before he looped the ball to backward point. The only positive to come out of the attempt was the intent to face his demons head-on off the very first ball.

It was what he had attempted to do against Punjab’s Harpreet Brar as well, in the reverse fixture between the two teams. Infact, it was against Brar, who has troubled him before, that Kohli first ventured out for slog-sweeping this season – twice – only to miss on both occasions.

Against Noor, a couple of weeks ago, the plan finally came to fruition. Carving runs either side of the square, Kohli looked persistent in his application of the stroke – clubbing a four and two sixes off the Afghan. The last of those came across as a welcome change. Clearing his front leg, Kohli latched onto a quicker-fuller delivery lined up on the stumps. A delivery we’ve usually seen him negotiate for a couple off a flick. A clear instance of taking the risk Kohli had alluded to the other night.

In contemporary T20 cricket, where even 262 has been proven to be chaseable, adopting the attacking stroke might be the need of the hour for someone as textbook as Kohli. Former SRH and Punjab head coach Tom Moody would zero in on the importance of it on Star Sports, “We talk about the sweep slog, how he’s brought that back out against spin, and hasn’t that been a really effective weapon for him in those middle overs. And when the opposition tries to bring spin in the powerplay, he brings that out and puts them under immediate pressure and that puts them under another area of scoring from the back foot.”

It is what India would expect of him in the upcoming T20 World Cup too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *