One reason India-Australia contests, even the most threadbare bilateral ODI ones, have continued to enthral is because the subtexts lend context to otherwise routine contests.
The ongoing five-match series, although one sided on the face of it, has seen smaller battles develop as the series has progressed.
Hardik Pandya’s unbridled assault on Adam Zampa led to the leggie’s omission from two ODIs. He came back to level the scores in Bangalore with Pandya’s wicket at a crucial juncture.
Yuzvendra Chahal’s taming of Glenn Maxwell led to the all-rounder’s omission in Bangalore. And David Warner’s continued struggles against Kuldeep Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have been the focal points of discussion. India have pipped Australia in at least two of them, and that is perhaps why they lead the series by an unassailable three-one margin. However, there’s one sub-plot that has clandestinely slipped under the radar. Captain Virat Kohli has now been dismissed thrice in four innings by one bowler — Nathan Coulter-nile.
While it is convenient to assume that Australia’s top bowlers are naturally inclined to bowl more balls at India’s best batsman, and if they have managed to keep him relatively quiet, the numbers are bound to be favourable. In reality that is a gross oversimplification of a complex matter. An obvious pattern seems to have emerged out of this tussle.
In Chennai, Kohli was coaxed into playing a stroke that is his strength once he is set, but can also be his undoing when he is looking to feel his way into an innings. The cover drive fetches him too many runs to be eliminated from his repertoire, but also makes him vulnerable to edging the swinging ball. Besides, one rarely enjoys the luxury of leaving too many balls alone in limited overs cricket.
Coulter-nile banked on the tried and tested formula in Chennai and came up triumphs. Following that, Kohli astutely made a minor adjustment in his stance, taking a middle-stump guard rather than the traditional leg-stump one. It rendered it easier to control the drive, as he didn’t have to reach out for the ball and was able to present a straighter bat rather than an angled one, with which he had sliced the ball to point at Chepauk.
The results of that little tweak were on view in Kolkata as Kohli drove authoritatively on his way to 92, on a pitch offering considerable help to all bowlers. But it was in the latter half of the same innings that Coulter-nile found another chink in Kohli’s armour. Whether it was planned or he stumbled upon it inadvertently remains a matter of debate.
With Kohli watching the outside edge of his bat like a hawk, Coulter-nile exposed the inside edge. In Kolkata, Kohli chopped on a slower ball angled into him, as he tried to dab the ball to third-man for a single. In Bangalore, he was dismissed in an identical fashion. On both occasions the ball came in a fraction and was far too close to the body to attempt the most productive ODI shot. Given Kohli’s penchant for ironing out the flaws in his own game, there’s every chance that he would have formulated plans to counter the examination of his inside edge, as he did after Chennai when the outside edge was under threat. But his challenge will also be to guard against any adjustment that might expose the earlier mode of dismissal again. With the fate of the series already sealed, this brewing cat and mouse tussle between Kohli and Coulter-nile promises to reach crescendo in Nagpur where the teams meet for the last ODI.