Melinda Farrell in Adelaide
Australia are exploring a data-driven, high-risk, high-reward tactic to negate Virat Kohli in the upcoming four-Test series that begins in Adelaide on Thursday.
The India captain’s peerless form heading into the series and the challenge of breaking through his formidable defence makes him the most valuable scalp in the visiting side and data produced by Cricviz may have unearthed the most likely method for capturing his wicket.
A recent article by Cricviz writer Ben Jones, which analysed Kohli’s batting, caught the eye of some members of the Australian camp, including Justin Langer. The head coach distributed the article among his players before they arrived in Adelaide and ESPNcricinfo understands it has been discussed in a team meeting to establish bowling plans to each Indian batsman.
Teams and coaching staff typically use a range of analytics resources and video along with personal experiences and observations to formulate their plans and, while Australia’s final plans for Kohli will ultimately be decided over the next few days – and adapted as the Test and series unfolds – the fact that such an article has even been thrown into the mix shows they are willing to search far and wide while considering ideas from outside the established brains trust.
The basic premise of the theory put forward by Jones is that Kohli is most vulnerable to fuller deliveries that deviate in towards the right-hander off the seam. In the eight Tests Kohli has played away from home this year, in South Africa and England, he has been dismissed significantly more often when bowlers have pitched the ball up. Cricviz figures show Kohli averages 46.28 against full deliveries compared to 66.33 against good length balls and 69.33 when facing short-pitched bowling.
The caveat to the approach of bowling full – and it is a significant one – is that it leaves Australia’s bowlers open to the risk of leaking runs; Kohli is brutal in punishing balls that stray a fraction onto his pads.
A theory is, of course, only as good as its execution and if Australia do adopt this tactic to the India captain it may be a question of the bowlers holding their collective nerve, particularly if he starts scoring freely. Speaking in Adelaide, Josh Hazlewood acknowledged there was a balancing act in containing Kohli while trying to remove him.
“It’s a good point,” said Hazlewood. “He’s one of those guys who can score pretty freely, a number of the guys can in this Indian side, but sometimes those risks bring the most rewards as well. It’s just about weighing that up and assessing how long we stay at each plan for. We might stay at it for 20 balls or 80 balls, depending on how we feel, and it’s about adapting once we’re on the field.”
Kohli’s wicket also falls more often to deliveries that deviate more due to seam rather than swing. This factor could play to the strengths of Australia’s fast bowlers using the Kookaburra ball more than it did to England’s bowlers, who tend to exploit the more swing-friendly elements of the Dukes ball.
Kohli has often countered the threat of the moving ball by batting outside his crease, even against those as quick as Mitchell Starc. In the 2014-15 series, when he made 692 runs in eight innings, including four centuries, ESPNcricinfo data logged him facing 142 deliveries that were of a full length. He was dismissed only twice.
Bounce is a key factor in Australia as well, although former Australia players Ian Chappell and Jason Gillespie have warned the current set not to overdo the short-ball tactic.
So, if Australia’s seamers do find success using full-length in-nippers to arguably the world’s most dangerous Test batsmen, it could go some way to swinging (or seaming) the series in their favour.