How Pakistan can counter Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli is the most valuable wicket in cricket. Every team’s planning against India revolves around finding ways to get him out. That is because the impact of Kohli’s innings on the game could be bigger than any other factor. He does not only score runs he does it so consistently that even a half-century from his bat can sound an underachievement.
In his last 50 innings in ODIs, Kohli has amassed 3,188 runs at a staggering average of 83.89, strike-rate of 98.66 and knocked 14 centuries. No batsman in ODI history has forged such consistency over such a long period.
How can Pakistan get him out?
Like many subcontinent greats, Kohli prefers spin (average 73.62) over pace (58.75). An average of 58.75 cannot be termed as a weakness but his numbers against Pakistan’s fast bowlers are at such a low level that it can be marked as his weaker link.
Since 2011, all of his eight dismissals against Pakistan have come off pace (at an average of 28.87) while on two occasions he has remained not out. 2011 because it was the coming of age year for Kohli. That was when he made his Test debut and piled 1,000 ODI runs in a calendar year for the first time.
He has played 10 innings in ODIs against Pakistan since then and not been dismissed by spin even once.
Even though Pakistan’s pace has troubled him over the years, he was given four consecutive overs of spin when he came to bat in the Champions Trophy group match in Birmingham in 2017. He was not attacked by a fast bowler until he moved to 15 off 16 balls. That allowed him to settle as he ended up getting 81 not out off 68 balls.
Pakistan made that mistake or maybe were forced to operate in that fashion because they were playing with only three fast bowlers in Birmingham – Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz and Hasan Ali. They repeated this mistake in the final at The Oval too but it wasn’t highlighted as India’s top-order collapsed at the hands of Amir.
Why Pakistan must play four pacers against India?
Now with Shaheen Shah Afridi and Mohammad Hasnain in the squad, Pakistan can afford to go in with four quicks. It is not that only Kohli prefers spin over pace. India’s four most threatening batsmen Kohli, Rohit Sharma, MS Dhoni and Hardik Pandya combined have faced 639 balls from Pakistan’s spinners in ODIs since 2011 and been dismissed just twice.
India's four major batsmen against Pakistan spinners in ODIs since 2011 ©Cricingif
No Pakistan spinner has dismissed Kohli, Dhoni and Pandya in the last eight years. Even though Pandya has played just two innings but in each of those he hit a hat-trick of sixes against spin – off Imad Wasim in Birmingham and Shadab Khan at The Oval in 2017 – which shows his comfort against the slow bowlers. Against spinners, he scored 85 runs off 39 balls at a strike-rate 217.95. His career strike-rate against spin (156.13) is also far better than pace (103.11).
Similarly, Sharma though has been dismissed twice by Pakistan’s spin, his average against slow bowlers (86.00) is twice as good as his average against pace (48.60).
This leads to the fact that Pakistan must operate with four quicks so that they can attack India’s major batsmen with pace during the middle overs.
India's four major batsmen against Pakistan fast bowlers in ODIs since 2011 ©Cricingif
Although Imad will be vital to Pakistan’s plans in the upcoming games against South Africa and New Zealand, he could be ignored against India especially knowing that Sharma, Kohli, Dhoni and Pandya have not been dismissed by any Pakistan left-arm spinner in the last eight years.
Pakistan played against Australia in Taunton with four quicks and two part-time spinners in Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez. That strategy could get a serious beating against India for each of their top seven is a right-hander and Malik and Hafeez are generally useful against lefties only.
Therefore, Pakistan should look to go with four blowers of pace against India in Manchester and bring the leg-spinner Shadab Khan in the team at the expense of a batsman.
Which batsman should make way for Shadab Khan?
There was a time when Shoaib Malik could score runs against India in his sleep. He has often found a place in Pakistan’s squad due to his powerful performances against the arch-rivals. While there has been no doubt that Malik has produced many match-winning performances and has a special place in Indo-Pak cricket history, his career against India can be neatly divided into two decades.
Shoaib Malik against India in ODIs ©Cricingif
In the 2000s, Malik scored 1,515 runs at an average of 52.24 against India and also struck four centuries and 10 half-centuries. But that performance nosedived in the next decade. Since 2010, he has just one score in excess of 50 in nine innings and is averaging paltry 33.37. There has not been any match-winning effort in this decade.
To retain Malik in the side based on 10 years old performances would be a hope rather than a conviction.
Pakistan do have a history of doing emotional selections for games against India but it has never worked out for them. Javed Miandad in Bangalore 1996, Saleem Malik in Manchester 1999 and Younis Khan in Adelaide 2015 are the key examples. On the contrary, when Pakistan made a brave move in Mohali 2011 and left out Shoaib Akhtar, his replacement Wahab Riaz ended up with five wickets in the match.
Malik’s recent performances have also been worrisome. His average this year has fallen to 22.72 whereas his average (13.57) in the UK is the lowest for any frontline batsman in this world who has played at least 20 innings.
On the other hand, Haris Sohail who has been warming the bench for two games has scored 554 runs in two years at an average of 50.36 and also hit two centuries against Australia this year. If Pakistan are looking for stability in the batting, Haris could come in the XI. However, if they think they need a power-hitter at number six then they could give a couple of more chances to Asif Ali.
Playing XI that Pakistan can do with
Six batsmen and five proper bowlers (including four fast bowlers).
Imam-ul-Haq, Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam, Mohammad Hafeez, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Asif Ali/Haris Sohail, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz, Hasan Ali, Shaheen Afridi/Mohammad Hasnain