Is Virat Kohli’s ‘bat deep’ role part of a ‘dying breed’ in T20 cricket?

Despite RCB skipper Faf Du Plessis terming 181 as a ‘pretty good score’, it didn’t seem to be the case when Mitchell Marsh closed the chase for the Delhi Capitals with 20 balls to spare on Saturday.

Mahipal Lomror (54 off 29), who looked the most in tune of all RCB batters, would echo the sentiment after his side’s seven-wicket loss. “When we were batting, we were aiming 165-170, because the wicket was slow and had turn to offer. Had we bowled a little more tightly, this would’ve been a good score,” he told the reporters.

Lomror would also reveal that for the other half-centurion from his team, the plan was to stay till the end of the innings and switch gears in an attempted final overs onslaught. A key characteristic of a Virat Kohli white-ball innings. “When Virat Bhai and I were batting, the plan was for him to bat deep and for me to keep trying and getting boundaries every over.”

Kohli, however, was taken out of the equation by Mukesh Kumar before he could put his foot to the pedal. In contrast to Lomror, his 55 would come off 46 deliveries.

Is a struggling middle order the reason behind Kohli, who’s been opening the batting for RCB for quite a while now, not taking the risk to up the ante? “In any game, if a middle order batter goes in, it becomes tough for him to play his shots as opposed to a batter who’s played 30-40 deliveries. If you have an anchor batting in the death overs, there are more chances of him hitting than the new batter coming in,” Lomror said.

Even though the anchor role may be associated with Kohli in the shortest format, for RCB, it isn’t a given. “We plan accordingly for every game, looking at the opposition bowling. The game plan keeps changing as you keep playing. If someone is getting the ball sweetly onto his bat, he takes the offensive role. And if someone is unable to do so, they can play the anchor for the team. That can keep fluctuating and is decided while we’re in the middle.”

Former Sunrisers Hyderabad coach Tom Moody believes that the game has moved on from Kohli’s approach to T20 batting. Speaking on ESPN Cricinfo Moody said, “Will always have this debate because it is the Virat Kohli template. It’s the way he bats. His career strike rate is around 130. His ability to continue to churn out runs is quite extraordinary.”

Moody further said, “But maybe he also felt that whilst the other end was flying along, his role was to feed that other end. But in my view, particularly with the impact player, the game has really moved on from that style of cricket. That’s why we are seeing so many totals go to 200+. There is no such role. We all need to be going here at 150+ without a doubt because we have the comfort of depth,” he added.

With six fifty-plus scores and 400-plus runs off his 10 outings, Kohli has upped his strike rate from 119, 115 in the last two seasons to 135 in 2023 but is still far off from the quickest scorers in the league.

Defending his role, Kohli had earlier told Robin Uthappa on JioCinema, “I’m not thinking about strike rate. ‘Oh, my strike rate must be 160 plus or anything’. I play T20 cricket according to the situation. If the situation demands I can play 230 strike rate and I can do this any day. I always play for my team & not for myself.”

With the format continuing to evolve as a batting beast and 259 becoming a chaseable total, is there room for Kohli and others who play the patient game? It was only last week that Delhi Capitals head coach Ricky Ponting had termed anchors as a ‘dying’ breed.

Ponting said the role of an anchor in T20 is dying as the team wants batsmen with higher strike rates at the top. “If you look through most line-ups, they don’t have batsmen with 115-120 strike rate up there, and if they lose a wicket, they send another explosive batter.”

He added, “I am a believer if you got aggressive, powerful batter and they can change their game and play the anchor role but an anchor cannot take their game to the strike rate of 200.” Surprisingly this season, it’s been proven that boosting the strike rate from 103 to 180 plus in a year’s time is, albeit rare, but possible. “I think only (Ajinkya) Rahane has done really well, and has changed himself from a low strike rate guy to a high strike rate guy. I feel that the actual role of anchors is dying.”

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