What Would Happen if Virat Kohli Faced Pakistan in a Test Match?

The Indian captain hasn't faced Pakistan in the longest format; the last India vs. Pakistan Test was way back in 2007!

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With the conclusion of the inaugural edition of the World Test Championship (WTC) following New Zealand’s stirring victory over India, the cricketing fraternity now gears up for the championship’s second, two-year-long cycle. It commences with the upcoming five-match series between India and the hosts, England. However, as it was in the first WTC cycle and as it has been since 2007, there is no India-Pakistan Test series scheduled for the 2021-23 cycle of the championship, much to the disgruntlement of cricket followers on both sides of the border. The last time the two arch-nemeses crossed swords in whites, Virat Kohli was yet to lead India to an U19 World Cup triumph, Shaheen Shah Afridi had recently turned seven, and Twitter was made publicly available just over a year ago.

Cricket fans in India and Pakistan have been deprived of bilateral Tests between the two countries throughout the late noughties and across the twenty-tens. This is in stark contrast to the earlier generations growing up in the Indian subcontinent who relished Indo-Pak cricketing affairs more as a norm than as an oddity. Despite several periods marred by wars and political tensions, there were intervals that saw a whole glut of bilateral matches. The 1978-1985 period, for instance, in which India and Pakistan locked horns in 20 Tests or the more recent 2004-2007 period that comprised 12 bilateral Tests to go with 24 ODIs.

As a cricket maniac growing up in Pakistan during the ongoing drought of Tests between the two countries, have you ever wondered what it would feel like waking up early on a hazy, late-January morning in Lahore, gulping down your breakfast half-heartedly, and rushing out to catch a 9 AM bus to Gaddafi where 20,000 spectators have already thronged together, eagerly awaiting the start of the first Indo-Pak Test on the country’s soil since February 2006? Or, to put it more surreally, have you ever let your thoughts wander to how Kohli will fare against the current crop of Pakistani pacers in a Test match?

(Freeze-Frame)

Shaheen trudges back to his bowling mark, and with a brazen side-glance, eyes Kohli trotting into the middle from the long-on boundary. Kohli shadow-practices a couple of punch-drives through the air, peeps up into the misty Lahore sky, and heads out towards the twenty-two yards. Lightning has struck twice on India with Shaheen being the wrecker-in-chief on both occasions – enticing Shubman Gill with a wide half-volley and plucking out Cheteshwar Pujara with a searing full-length delivery that rapped him plumb in front to make the home fans go berserk.

The 22,000-odd audience that was hollering in ecstasy minutes ago now gazed ahead in wild anticipation as if a celestial being had descended on the turf. Neither booing nor cheering, just looking out into the midst as if utterly bewildered whether they were actually living it. The Imran Khan enclosure, usually known for springing up Mexican waves, is absorbed by a nervous uncertainty as Kohli takes his guard. Shaheen begins his run-up with three slips and a gully in to gobble up any opportunity that may present itself from that big, booming Kohli drive. It’s pitched up, angling away from the Indian captain. He shoulders arms nonchalantly, and a thousand or so simultaneous oohs resonate around Gaddafi. The tourists are reeling at 14/2 with five overs into the first of the two Indo-Pak Tests in edition three of WTC.

(Resume)

How Does Kohli Fare Against Pace?

Virat Kohli Against Pace in Tests (Overall)

Bowler Type

Runs

Balls

Dis

Avg

SR

Left-arm Fast

336

510

6

56.0

65.9

Left-arm Medium

350

614

7

50.0

57.0

Right-arm Fast

910

1,698

25

36.4

53.6

Right-arm Medium

2,709

5,018

57

47.5

54.0

If you cannot help but speculate how Kohli might perform against Pakistani pacers in their own backyard, a glimpse at his numbers against different types of pace bowlers in Asian conditions may give an out-and-out indication regarding his potency in red-ball cricket. Against left-arm medium-pace bowlers, he has fared exceptionally well both in Asia and across the entirety of his Test career. His overall record against left-arm fast is quite impressive, too. In Asia, the sample size is insubstantial to make a sound judgment. As for his numbers against right-arm pacers, they significantly improve when playing in Asia, swelling his overall average in Asia to a staggering 60.9. Therefore, against the likes of Hasan Ali, Faheem Ashraf, and Mohammad Abbas, Kohli is expected to pile up heaps of runs when playing in Asia.

Virat Kohli Against Pace in Tests (Asia)

Bowler Type

Runs

Balls

Dis

Avg

SR

Left-arm Fast

25

89

1

25.0

28.1

Left-arm Medium

151

275

3

50.3

54.9

Right-arm Fast

336

488

5

67.2

68.9

Right-arm Medium

1,334

2,277

21

63.5

58.6

(Freeze-Frame)

The battle cry is at its loudest, and the revolutionaries are retreating. India, crowned Test champions barely six months ago, find themselves teetering in their first away game of the championship’s third edition. They have now lost half of their side with Rishabh Pant, the game-changing Rishabh Pant the latest to go courtesy of a touch of reverse-swing mastery from Hasan Ali. Crucially for the visitors, their skipper is still in there. Kohli has driven, punched, flicked, and pulled his way to a useful half-century. While the rest of the batting line-up has proven to be a mere house of cards, he is combating everything being served up to him by this potent-looking Pakistan pace attack. He is switched on and determined to keep going.

(Resume)

How Can Pakistan Pacers Get Kohli Out?

Over the course of Kohli’s Test career, there have been several theories about the supposed chinks in his armor against pace-bowling that have circumambulated the cricketing fraternity for long. One of them was to prey on Kohli’s impatience – putting the red cherries on a full-length wide outside off-stump, testing out his tempo, and drawing him into the trap. However, that theory is now regarded as a misnomer considering the adjustments that Kohli made to his game since that dreadfully lean patch over in England in 2014. More importantly, in subcontinental conditions where the ball keeps lower, batsmen can afford to drive from a length, and such tactics may not reap as many rewards.

In contrast, the Pakistan pacers, especially the right-arm bowlers, can look to attack the Indian matador’s stumps and follow a strategy similar to the one New Zealand employed when India last toured their shores. If there is a decent nip in the wicket early on with the new ball, Hasan and co can consider bowling a tighter line to Kohli and look for that ideal delivery that pitches on a length and darts back into a right-handed batsman. Kohli is, however, too good a batsman not to establish a line of defense against this ploy, so Pakistan bowlers will need to keep him guessing and aim at the imaginary bails of a fourth stump every now and then. These are, of course, two archetypal lines of dismissals for Kohli in Tests and which were so brilliantly exploited by Kyle Jamieson in the WTC Final (2019-21). It can be argued that this plan is more suited to English-like conditions and not so much for the flat tracks on offer in Asia. However, it can still be taken into consideration given the profound role that reverse-swing plays in Asia and the ability of Pakistan bowlers to capitalize on any sort of reverse swing on offer.

(Freeze-Frame)

Hasan plods towards the bowling crease. The sparkling side of the now roughed-up Kookaburra ball is barely discernible underneath his fingers. ‘It’s going away,’ Kohli thinks to himself as he identifies the shinier side on the release and prepares to drive. It’s up there, swerving away from the Indian skipper and whizzing past his slanted willow as he drives hard and misses. It has done too much. Hasan covers his face in his hands out of despair and is treated to a right smile from Kohli. It is not the first time the old ball has evaded his outside edge today. Next ball, Hasan serves up a gentle, leg-stump half-volley which is flipped with disdain through square leg for a couple. Kohli breaks into the nineties. Just two overs ago, he had struck a sumptuous four off Faheem to take India past 200. He is aware that he has to keep upping the ante and accumulate as many runs as he can with India eight down and a new ball looming just around the corner.

It’s four overs since Pakistan took the new ball, and they still have not seen the back of Kohli. He has been stranded at 97* for nearly ten minutes but has fought a lone battle for most of the day. Despite the regularity with which the wickets have fallen, India have managed to keep the scoreboard ambling along, much to the credit of Kohli adjusting to the game situation splendidly. Here he is at the striker’s end, rolling his bat in his hands from the handle and ever focused on the ball ahead. Hasan runs in to bowl his seventh of the spell. Bowls his first delivery with decent pace on off-stump. It’s just full enough to induce a flick through mid-on from Kohli – a shot that he has mastered over the years.

But this one straightens after pitching and takes the outer half of the blade. For a moment, the earth stops spinning, at least for Kohli. For a moment, his heart sinks as distressing memories flicker in front of his eyes stemming from a similarly attempted flick shot from what now seems a past life. But there is no Shadab Khan to gobble it up at backward point. The ball evades a diving gully fielder and slithers down to the third-man boundary. Kohli, who has already trudged halfway down the wicket, rips his helmet off, and there’s a shriek of utter euphoria that is clearly heard by the cameramen positioned behind the boundary skirtings. Some of the spectators have slouched down; others still have their hands on the back of their heads in disbelief. The chattering in the stands has subsided. A group of youngsters from the Javed Miandad enclosure now rise up, hooting and clapping in celebration. More and more people join, and within moments, it turns into a thunderous clap reverberating across Gaddafi. Kohli, consumed by a bear-hug from Ishant Sharma, pulls away and raises his bat in acknowledgment. Adelaide 2014 was redemption alright, but hardly anything has tasted sweeter than this to date. A hundred in his first-ever outing on Pakistani soil – another box ticked and another feather in his ever-filled cap. The wand-wielder from Delhi has cast an engrossing magic spell in Delhi’s twin city on the other side of the border.

(Resume)

That’s how an ordinary day of red-ball cricket in a world with Indo-Pak Tests could look like.

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