Virat Kohli
Royal Challengers Bengaluru’s Virat Kohli plays a shot during a Indian Premier League Twenty20 cricket match. He has stepped his scoring rate with a more aggressive approach. Image Credit: AFP

Virat Kohli is a work in progress. After 16 years of international cricket, he continues to reinvent himself. How else can you explain the fearless approach, as evidenced by his best strike rate in IPL history? The Royal Challengers Bengaluru batter is scoring at 153.51, which betters his 152.03 in 2016, and has crossed 600 runs in a season for the fourth time.

The leap in Kohli’s strike rate comes after a deluge of criticism. His place in the Indian team for the T20 World Cup was questioned, although it was never in doubt. What’s doubtless is the fact that T20 is not his best format, and that stems from his playing style.

Arguably the best batter in the world, Kohli is a classical player who plays in the V. Very seldom do you find him swiping across the line. He prefers to score boundaries and aims for sixes only when the situation demands. And that explains the slower scoring rate.

Why Kohli was cautious

The 35-year-old is integral to India and the Royal Challengers Bengaluru. So he puts a high value on wicket, resulting in a low-risk approach, which explains a slower rate in the early part of his innings. That was fine when the Indian and the RCB batting was fragile, but T20 scoring charts have soared so much that a turbo-charged approach is required right from the powerplay.

Everyone knows that Kohli has the strokes to score swiftly; it’s just that he has to shed the self-imposed shackles. Paddy Upton, former mental conditioning coach of the Indian cricket team who worked closely with the Delhi-born batter, believes he can do it.

The one thing he [Kohli] might need to do going forward in T20 cricket is improve his strike rate. Virat has possibly been guilty in the past of valuing his wicket a little bit too much or looking to bat deeper. Once you’ve powerful seven players around you, that frees up someone like Virat to play a lot more freely. Then he doesn’t need to carry on that longer. Virat has got the game to strike at the rate of 160. He generally will strike at around 120-130 early in the innings and then maybe go up to 140-150. He has the ability to start at 130-140 and get up to 150-160 quickly,” Upton told the Gulf News video chat Straight Bat in March.

That’s precisely what Kohli has done.

He admitted that eliminating the fear of getting out has helped him score faster. “I think it just takes a bit more conviction and take out that thought that props up: ‘what if you get out’,” Kohli said during the post-match presentation after RCB’s win over Punjab Kings in Dharamsala. “I’ve been managing to stay ahead of that thought in this IPL and that’s really helped me in the middle overs in this IPL, keeping my strike rate up and keeping the scoring rate going for the team as well.”

The change in approach was evident against the Gujarat Titans when he smashed the second ball of the RCB innings for a towering six. That’s the new Kohli, unafraid to go aerial so early in the innings; it’s more like Yashasvi Jaisal of the Rajasthan Royals. This is Kohli reinventing himself, and soon, his scoring rate picked up.

The RCB opener is no longer chary of playing against the line and has employed the slog-sweep to shore up his poor scoring rate and break the stranglehold of spinners in the middle overs. “I’ve brought out the slog-sweep to the spinners. I just mentally put myself in that situation and didn’t practice it at all,” Kohli said after scoring a 47-ball 92 in the Punjab game. “I know I can hit it because I’ve hit it a lot in the past. So I just felt like I need to take a bit more risk, and for me, that shot was something that I used to hit regularly back in the day.”

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It has enabled him to sustain the scoring rate through the middle overs, and RCB’s hopes of a last-four berth are still alive.

More importantly, it shows that Kohli can still play the shortest format brilliantly. “Kohli’s mindset has been as good as you could possibly want. He is No 1. Incredibly confident in his game. The reason is, he trains and prepares physically, technically and tactically better than probably no one else in the world at the moment. He knows his game and knows what he needs to do. He’s got supreme confidence and is a big-match player,” Upton told Gulf News.

Kohli is constantly looking to improve the game, which is why he continues to be at the top of his game even after 16 years of international cricket. “[I’ve been looking at] some added challenges in terms of improving your own game, certain aspects of your game that you want to get better at because it’s an ever-evolving process, and I am certainly not a guy who wants to sit around saying this is the way I play and not improve on the things I need to.”

That’s Kohli, a student of the game who refuses to rest on his laurels.