After a run of five years and 49 Tests, Kohli has hit a new low in his career following a forgettable pink-ball Test in Bengaluru.
In the December of 2016, following an astounding 235 against England at the iconic Wankhede Stadium, former India captain Virat Kohli had touched the elusive mark in Test cricket – the average of 50. The achievement came in his 52nd Test for India, and after a slight flicker, it remained constant since November 2017, during the home Test series against Sri Lanka. But after a run of five years and 49 Tests, Kohli has hit a new low in his career following a forgettable pink-ball Test in Bengaluru.
The last time Kohli scored his international ton was in a pink-ball Test, the format in which he remains India’s top-scorer, in 2019. And Bengaluru is is adopted home ground. The stars were aligning for Kohli to break away from the shackles of his lean patch or century drought which has now troubled him over 72 innings in international cricket. But the story remained the same.
Falling both time to spinners, Kohli recorded 23 and 13 in the Test match in Bengaluru and the numbers saw his career batting average slip below 50 for the first time since 2017. He needed 43 runs to stay within the mark, but fell short by seven runs and hence his present career average stands as 49.95.
Kohli hence ended his series with 81 runs in three innings at an average of just 27. It is his third-lowest tally in a home series where he has played in at least two matches, after 46-run tally in five innings in 2016/17 Border-Gavaskar series and tally of 60 runs in two innings against West Indies in 2013/14 series.
The tally of 81 runs is also his lowest ever total in a Test series against Sri Lanka.
Earlier on Saturday, former India captain Sunil Gavaskar had offered Kohli a key piece of advice on how to come out of this lean patch.
“The conversation you are having with yourself is to try and eliminate those kind of shots that get you out. You are trying to have a conversation where you say that play as much as possible with the full face of the bat. And try and do that which will give him that much of a chance to get out of what you might call a lean patch,” he Star Sports at the end of Day 1.
IND vs SL: Backfoot play pegs back Virat Kohli’s average
The batter fell playing back to spin for the third time in the Test series against Sri Lanka as his wait for a century since late 2019 continued.
At the fall of India’s second wicket, Virat Kohli walked in to rousing applause. With Sri Lanka six down at the end of Day 1, the Sunday crowd had come in to see India win and Kohli make amends for missing out on a big score in the first innings.
Due to his Royal Challengers Bangalore connection, every run by Kohli was cheered lustily. He raised their expectations when he danced down the pitch to the seventh ball he faced, launching it over bowler Dhananjaya de Silva’s head for a one-bounce four.
The fans’ joy though was shortlived. On 13, he played back to left-arm spinner Praveen Jayawickrama and was trapped in front by an arm ball which kept low. Like in the first innings, Kohli made the mistake of playing back on a tricky pitch where the pink ball with extra lacquer skidded through at times.
“What, did he again go on the backfoot?” a disbelieving former India player asked. On a turning track, committing on the back foot is fraught with risk. There is no second line of defence if one went deep into the crease. While the ball has kept low and there is uneven bounce on the M Chinnaswamy Stadium pitch, apart from Kohli no one had got out to a shooter in the match.
Sunday’s dismissal also saw Kohli’s Test batting average slip below the 50 mark (49.95). Kohli is playing his 101st Test, and it was the first time since his his 60th match (Aug, 2017) that the average has come below 50.
Returning to the M Chinnaswamy Stadium was expected to spur him on and help get the rhythm back. The viciously turning track of uneven bounce has challenged every batter, but Kohli has struggled for rhythm for almost two years now. It has been 72 innings since he scored a Test 100, which came in the day/night Test against Bangladesh at Eden Gardens in November, 2019.
Getting a start has not been a problem. In the first innings here, he looked in good touch on way to 23 when he played back to off-spinner Dhananjaya and fell leg before to a ball that kept low.
In the first Test at Mohali, he made an eye-pleasing 45 before a lack of judgement cost his wicket, playing back instead of forward to a flighted delivery by left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya to be bowled.
The very best batters pride in an average of 50 plus—only Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid among Indian batters finished with that. While Kohli’s class and batting are much more than numbers, this is one statistic that will prick his pride. When he hit his 27th Test hundred, he was being talked of as an all-time great.
India desperately need their talismanic batter to regain confidence ahead of the fifth Test against England, to be played at Edgbaston in June.
Opener Mayank Agarwal was also left to rue the missed opportunity. The last time India played on a difficult spinning track, at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium, Agarwal was the stand out player. Showing correct technique to counter the turn and bounce, he scored a majestic 150 against New Zealand to star in India’s win.
With such competition for the opener’s slot, Agarwal was expected to cash in with KL Rahul absent. But things haven’t gone to plan. He has fallen into a rut like Kohli, unable to capitalise on starts. At his home ground on Sunday, he fell for a brisk 22. Immediately after playing a glorious lofted drive dancing down the pitch to Embuldeniya, he was caught at slip.
In the first innings, he was run out for four after a terrible mix-up with skipper Rohit Sharma on what was later declared a no-ball. He simply took off for a non-existent run and was stranded after being sent back.
At Mohali, he was out for 33. In South Africa , he started brightly with 60 but faded away with scores of 4, 26, 23, 15 and 7.
He got a chance in South Africa because Rohit Sharma was injured, and in this series as Rahul regains fitness. With Shubman Gill and Priyank Panchal waiting for their chance, Agarwal will feel the heat.