Friday, September 27, 2019

How does South Africa unseat King Kohli?

Since the day Martin Crowe nicknamed the the quartet of Steve Smith, Kane Williamson, Joe Root and Virat Kohli the "Fab Four", these four gentlemen have basically dominated the landscape of cricket to rarely before seen levels. Steve Smith has been fantastic in Test cricket, and could arguably be called the Best Since Bradman. Virat Kohli though, he's been incredible in all three formats of the game. He is the only member of the recently invented 40-50-60 club. That is, an average exceeding 40 in one format, 50 in another format, and 60 in another format. He isn't just a member of the club, he's the founding member and to date the only member. 

His Test numbers are pretty impressive. In 79 Tests, he has scored 6749 runs at an average of 53. If you think that is impressive, his stats as captain are otherworldly. In 48 Tests, he has scored 18 centuries and over 4600 runs at an average of 61. The man is good. He's scored over 1000 Test runs in 3 consecutive years, hasn't had a year averaging less than 50 in a calendar year since 2015. In other words, in any other era, he'd be a solid contender for the best Test batsman of the era. India is the best Test team in the world. They've been the best team in the world for four years, and Kohli has been their crown jewel. Sure, Cheteshwar Pujara has done an impressive imitation of Rahul Dravid, and Murali Vijay has been a capable opener. But Virat Kohli is the head of the snake, and as Dale Steyn once said about Steve Smith, if you kill the head the body will die. South Africa has had reasonable success vs Kohli in India. In four Tests, he averages 33.33. Unfortunately, this appears less evidence of a supposed weakness, and more an indictment of how unplayable those pitches are. So we had to look a little bit more in-depth to see if we could identify any weaknesses. 

When Virat Kohli first went to England he could not play the fifth stump line. Jimmy Anderson had him, as the English say, on toast the entire time he was there. But this has two issues; 
1 - That was in England
2 - He resolved that the next time he was in England

So how do you get Kohli out? Well, to start with, Nathan Lyon has had more success against Kohli than anyone in world cricket, with nine dismissals. This interesting stat might put Dane Piedt into play. He isn't quite Nathan Lyon, but he is a capable off-spinner and South Africa will likely go into the game with a second spinner. Indeed Kohli averages 23 in India vs Lyon, so he seems quite shakey against quality off-spin. Moreover, in the recent past, all but one of his last 10 dismissals vs pace have come either caught behind or in the slips/gully region. This, combined with the fact that he has only 2 LBW/bowled dismissals in the last 12 Tests indicates that the plan should be to get Piedt on early if he plays, and also to bowl a fuller length, outside off stump and get him driving. This is admittedly a pretty brave plan, as it can go badly, but he seemingly never gets out pulling or playing the straight ball nowadays. The data reflects that even the best and most foolproof plan against Kohli is likely to fail, given how great he is. But he is only human, so he is due a truly bad series at some point, and why not against South Africa? 

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