The RCB batter acknowledged the challenge of switching between formats after scoring a match-winning hundred against Sunrisers
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The range of shots on display in T20 cricket has never been wider, but Virat Kohli continues to bat like Virat Kohli. He isn’t a 360-degree player, and he doesn’t try to be one, and this, he says, is because he has to juggle the wildly differing demands of cricket’s three formats as an all-year-round player.
Kohli said this after scoring a match-winning 100 off 63 balls for Royal Challengers Bangalore against Sunrisers Hyderabad on Thursday night. Soon after Kohli completes his IPL season with RCB, he will travel to the UK to play for India against Australia in the World Test Championship final.
“I’ve never been a guy who tries so many fancy shots, because we have to play 12 months of the year,” he said. “For me, it’s not [about] playing fancy shots and throwing my wicket away. We’ve got Test cricket after the IPL, so I’ve got to stay true to my technique and find ways to win games for my team, something that I take a lot of pride in, and when I can make an impact in an important game, obviously that gives me confidence, gives the team confidence, and it just helps the team overall, which is something that I look to do.”
It’s a significant statement, because it isn’t often that someone as high-profile as Kohli acknowledges – even indirectly – that trying to play in a T20-specific way during a T20 competition could affect a batter’s ability to handle the demands of Test cricket.
In a way, Kohli may have been responding to the criticism he often faces for how he bats in T20. Whether he is playing for India or RCB, he is never been too far from having his approach questioned – click here, here and here for three of many examples from just this website.
You could argue that there is merit to these critiques of Kohli and other batters who broadly fall under the anchor category in T20s. From the evidence of IPL 2023 alone, where teams have scored quicker than ever and passed 200 more often than in any other previous season, the anchor appears to be an endangered commodity in T20 teams. They have had to find ways to score quicker to stay relevant, and Kohli has tried to do this too, particularly by adopting a higher-risk approach against pace to try and make up for his slower scoring against spin.
But these critiques of Kohli and other players of his kind often address the issue in isolation, without examining how trying to bat more explosively in T20 could hamper a batter’s ability to play long innings in Test or even ODI cricket.
By drawing such a close relationship between “playing fancy shots” and “throwing my wicket away”, Kohli got to the heart of the issue. Batters need to put a price on their wicket in the longer formats; the best T20 hitters are those who unlearn that maxim. They “destigmatise risk”, as the former New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori put it while encouraging KL Rahul – another batter who has faced heavy criticism for his T20 approach – to take more chances early on.
It can’t be easy to destigmatise risk in a T20 tournament and play a high-profile Test series immediately afterwards, though, and Kohli seemed to acknowledge this when he spoke about staying true to his technique.
Plenty of batters have developed T20-specific techniques to meet the format’s demand for frequent fours and sixes. The former Australia allrounder Shane Watson, for instance, developed one that incorporated baseball principles.
To switch between a T20-specific technique and a Test-match technique that prioritises survival cannot be easy, particularly when there is no real gap between tournaments and series. For this reason, as T20 continues its rapid evolution, the all-format batter could one day become a rarity.
Kohli, for now, continues to score hundreds in the IPL without – as he put it – compromising on his technique. Thursday night’s innings against Sunrisers was his seventh T20 hundred and his sixth in the IPL, and after the game was done he allowed himself a brief moment of soaking in how it felt.
“It’s my sixth IPL hundred, and I don’t give myself enough credit for that sometimes, because I put myself under so much stress already,” he said. “I don’t really care about what anyone says on the outside, to be honest, because that’s their opinion. When you’re in that situation yourself, you know how to win games of cricket, and I’ve done that for a long period of time, so it’s not like when I play I don’t win games for my team. It’s playing the situation that I take pride in.”
Karthik Krishnaswamy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo