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Virat Kohli vs Nathan Lyon – The battle of the series?

With four more innings to go in the Test series, the Kohli-Lyon battle could be a series-defining one.

Virat Kohli and Nathan Lyon
Virat Kohli and Nathan Lyon. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

A throwback to 2014: Virat Kohli was still a rookie who was still trying to find his feet in Test cricket. The youngster was picked for the tour of England. The then, skipper MS Dhoni backed him and gave an opportunity to play all the five Tests. However, Kohli failed to deliver the goods and only managed to score 134 runs in 10 innings. James Anderson was the man who posed all sorts of troubles to Kohli back then.

Now, four years down the line, Virat is the current Indian skipper and is the middle of a purple patch. He has scored runs all around the globe. Within no time, he figures out ways to play each of the bowlers in the opposition. He is almost flawless and the same James Anderson was unable to dismiss him even once when India toured England again in 2018.

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Given the kind of ferocious form that he is in, he was expected to dominate the Australian bowling attack quite easily. He looked great in the 2014-15 tour. Even though the Aussie bowling attack looks much stronger now, there weren’t any doubts about Kohli continuing his assassin. But, things have gone slightly otherwise.

In two Tests thus far, he was dismissed all the four times. While Pat Cummins dismissed him twice, he fell prey to Nathan Lyon on the other two occasions. Cummins was clearly lucky on both the instances to have dismissed the Indian captain courtesy some brilliant fielding. But, that hasn’t been the case with the off-spinner.

Lyon has dismissed Virat Kohli seven times

Kohli is in a brilliant frame of mind at the moment. By now, he would have figured out a solution if it was anyone else but Lyon. Without any big tricks in his bag, the off-spinner has managed to keep the Indian skipper quiet. So much so that this dominant force is forced not to take any chances against him.

If any bowler tries to oppress him, Virat usually goes after the bowler and tries to knock him down. Yet, against Lyon, he hasn’t been able to do that. The 31-year-old is a classic example of an off-spinner for all surfaces. He doesn’t have a lot of variations or tries different things. Forget the doosra, he doesn’t even have a proper arm-ball. His primary weapon is the off-spinner, the one that doesn’t turn and his accuracy.

The options to deal with the off-spinner

Since Lyon is extracting purchase off the rough patches, there are two options to deal with him. One is going onto the front foot to block him eventually nullifying the turn. The other is to sweep him by taking a big stride forward.

But, Virat is forced not to opt for either of the two options. Lyon brings in an overspin delivery as one of his off-spin variations. This extracts a lot of added turn as well as bounce. Hence, there is every chance of missing the ball and ending up being stumped out. Otherwise, the ball could also wrap him up high on the bat or the gloves and it would end up being a catch for the bat-pad fielder who is right under his bat. As far as the sweep is concerned, Kohli isn’t much of a sweeper and that makes it a risk shot against a master bowler.

The Trap

Virat shuffles across slightly towards the off-stump while playing a shot. He plants his foot slightly across that helps him maintain a great balance to play all kinds of shots. He whips off anything that is a tad straighter even though he has his foot across marginally as his bottom hand comes into play. He is extremely strong in that region. If certain enough, his stride is a little longer that assists him to play that glorious cover drive.

But, it is this same strength that Lyon has used to tie him down. His fields are dominant on the leg side. Lyon has covered up all the areas of strength for Kohli when the ball is anywhere straighter and cut down the angles for him to steal easy runs. So, the run flow isn’t as smooth as he usually likes.

Now, there is the classical off-spinner bowled outside the off-stump. For this, Kohli can either leave the delivery which is extremely dangerous or shuffle across on the backfoot and play it behind square on the leg side. But, he hasn’t been able to rotate the strike as he would like due to the tight leg-side fields. The other option he is left with is driving against the spin which isn’t ideal either.

This is where the variations come into play. The straight balls and the off-spinners, without any change in the bowling action, makes it tough for him to decipher. Lyon has set the trap by bowling one kind of delivery consistently for even an over or two and changes it up all of a sudden. This is exactly what happened in the second Test where he was set-up. In the first game, it is the big stride forward that was Kohli’s undoing.

What next?

Scoring opportunities are limited at the moment for Kohli with the off-spinner having figured and set up a brilliant trap for him. Even though he scored a century, Kohli had his own, fair share of luck in that innings. With four more innings to go in the Test series, the Kohli-Lyon battle could be a series-defining one.

India’s fortunes will depend on how quickly the skipper figures new ways to play Lyon. One of the better alternatives would be to take the attack onto the GOAT rather than trying to defend him. Which also gives Lyon a genuine chance of getting a wicket!

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