IPL 2024: Virat Kohli finds his best form just in time for RCB

Royal Challengers Bengaluru’s turnaround is directly linked to the switch in Virat Kohli’s attitude and his new hard-hitting avatar

Sumit Chakraberty
First Published22 May 2024
Bengaluru: Royal Challengers Bengaluru's Virat Kohli plays a shot during the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2024 cricket match against the Chennai Super Kings on 18 May.
Bengaluru: Royal Challengers Bengaluru’s Virat Kohli plays a shot during the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2024 cricket match against the Chennai Super Kings on 18 May.(PTI)

Virat Kohli had a strike rate of 142 in the first six games of the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2024. This was about the same as his 140-strike rate last season. But a switch in Kohli’s attitude just in time has taken the Royal Challengers Bengaluru (RCB) to the playoffs, where they now face the Rajasthan Royals (RR) on 22 May.

The modern T20 game requires strike rates above 160 from openers, especially in the IPL where an extra batsman in the form of an ‘impact sub’ spiked scores. Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) openers Travis Head and Abhishek Sharma had strike rates over 200 and Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) openers Sunil Narine and Phil Salt had strike rates over 180, which put those two teams at the top of the table. Kohli’s 142 rate would yield a team total of 170 on average, which is just not good enough in today’s game.

Also read: IPL 2024: 5 openers who are redefining T20 cricket

RCB lost seven out of their first eight games, even though their opener, King Kohli, had the orange cap for scoring the highest number of runs in the league. Most commentators, like Tom Moody, attributed it to lack of support from other members of the team. But a few intrepid ones, primarily Sunil Gavaskar, called out Kohli’s strike rate.

This was evident in a match RCB lost to RR in Jaipur on 6 April. Kohli made the slowest century in IPL history and RCB ended up with a below par total of 183/3. Their strikers Rajat Patidar and Dinesh Karthik did not get a chance to bat at all because Kohli remained unbeaten. The problem with an opener occupying the crease at a conservative strike rate is that it doesn’t give others in the team a fair opportunity to hit out either.

RCB’s turnaround came in a game against SRH in Hyderabad on 25 April. RCB made 206 despite a slow 51 in 43 balls from Kohli, who got off to a fast start in the powerplay with 32 in 18 balls, but then pushed the ball for 16 singles and a two to get to his fifty. Patidar made up for Kohli’s slowdown with a blistering 50 in 20 balls to take RCB to a winning score.

Kohli stepped up his scoring rate after that.

RCB’s six back-to-back wins to get to the playoffs includes four scores above 200. Even before they started the winning spree, RCB made 262 and 221 in two games they lost narrowly to SRH and KKR.

Kohli’s strike rate in these eight games is 169, which is far higher than the 142 he had in the first six games. The opener went from strength to strength as he got mentally attuned to his new approach.

Kohli goes aerial

Kohli saved his best for the deciding match against Chennai Super Kings (CSK) on Sunday. He scored only 47 in 29 balls at a strike rate of 162, but it was a selfless knock of the highest quality.

RCB had to beat CSK by 18 runs or more to qualify for the playoffs and got off to a quick start. Then the rain came down.

When play resumed, CSK brought out their spinners to exploit the damp pitch. With sharp turn on the sticky wicket, Faf du Plessis’ scoring rate dropped to a run a ball. It was Kohli who took up the attack, backing away to slap boundaries off left-arm spinners Ravindra Jadeja and Mitchell Santner. Then he got two sixes with slog sweeps against the spin.

It’s not easy for a player who is conditioned to play safely in singles and twos, with an occasional boundary, to switch to a more aggressive form of batting. Kohli went aerial with two shots that transformed his strike rate. He’s now pulling pacers for sixes in the powerplay when only two fielders are allowed in the deep, instead of only aiming for boundaries though the in-field. And he’s slog-sweeping spinners in the middle overs.

RCB’s turnaround is directly linked to the switch in Kohli’s attitude. Even when he fails in his new hard-hitting avatar, he gives opportunities to others to take up the attack. This is different from earlier in the season when he hogged the crease.

Rajasthan Royals' Sandeep Sharma (left) speaks with captain Sanju Samson during the Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 cricket match between Delhi Capitals and Rajasthan Royals at the Arun Jaitley Stadium in New Delhi on 7 May.

Poor choices hit RR

While RCB made it to the eliminator against RR in Ahmedabad on Wednesday with six straight wins, their rivals had the opposite experience. RR lost four games in a row after winning eight of their first nine games. Then the washout against KKR in Guwahati on Sunday, in the final game of the league phase, dropped them down to third in the table, behind KKR and SRH.

RR had themselves to blame by choosing to bat first on tacky wickets in Chennai against CSK on 12 May and then in Guwahati. They posted scores below 150 in both games.

RR’s task is more difficult now in the absence of opener Jos Buttler who has left for England for a series against Pakistan before the T20 World Cup. Yashasvi Jaiswal, their other opener, had a couple of good knocks, but has mostly been dismissed to over-aggressive shots this season.

Skipper Sanju Samson and the refurbished Riyan Parag are the mainstays in the batting. RR have failed to get the best out of their West Indian power-hitters, Rovman Powell and Shimron Hetmyer, who haven’t got enough opportunities to shine. This leaves them in a precarious position.

Choices made in selection, batting order, and the toss have tripped up RR. But they still have a team with an enviable bowling attack that can go all the way.

They would be better off replacing Buttler with one of their South African bowlers, left-arm pacer Nandre Burger or left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj, depending on the wicket. This would require taking a punt with either Powell or Dhruv Jurel as an opener, instead of the IPL rookie, Tom Kohler-Cadmore. As RCB have shown, nothing risked, nothing gained.

Sumit Chakraberty is a writer based in Bengaluru.

Also read: Neeraj Chopra in competition mode as Paris beckons

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