Virat Kohli’s net sessions are often an intense, well-calculated drill, a compressed version of his real-game batting. India’s optional nets in Bengaluru on Friday was an encore as Kohli meticulously went about polishing his skills against short-pitched bowling and left-arm spin that he will need to negate potentially against New Zealand in the World Cup semifinals.
The Kiwis are primed for a last-four match against India in Mumbai on November 15 on the back of 10 points and a superior run-rate than their closest contender Pakistan.
The immediate goal in front of Kohli might be disposing of the Netherlands, but with due respect the Dutch are not yet in the New Zealand class.
One of the challenges the Black Caps will pose to Kohli will be through Lockie Ferguson. The express pacer is yet to fire like he did in the 2019 World Cup, partially because of a right Achilles niggle.
But Ferguson showed signs of hitting the peak against Sri Lanka at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, rattling the Lankan middle and late order with a barrage of short-pitched balls.
He even pinged Maheesh Theekshana on his hands, leaving the batsman writhing in pain for a few minutes.
Ferguson is quite certain to repeat the tactics against India too if the meeting materializes.
Kohli owns one of the better pulls in contemporary cricket and rarely gets rattled by the body line, but true to his character, the former Indian captain did not leave anything to chance.
Pacer Shardul Thakur and the side-arm specialists bowled an array of bouncers at Kohli and he had little difficulty in smoking several of them away, some shots traveling as far as the second tier.
The 35-year-old also attempted a couple of ramp shots, which might prove handy against a bowler like Ferguson who can hit north of 150 kmph.
The second testing point for Kohli might come in the form of Mitchell Santner’s left-arm spin. It is no secret that the Indian star does not boast of a fine record against that type, often getting into tangles.
In the past, left-armers like Keshav Maharaj, Shakib Al Hasan and Dunith Wellalage had success against Kohli.
Santner has been New Zealand’s best bowler on view here, consistently hitting the right length to keep the batters largely silent.
It has reflected in his numbers too in the event – 16 wickets from nine matches with a fine economy of 4.6 to boot.
It is highly likely that Kohli will face Santner in the middle-overs against whom he averages just 9.33 across 17 matches while getting dismissed three times.
Even if one takes recent numbers, Kohli’s struggle against left-arm spinners is quite evident. Since January 2021, Kohli averages just over 13 against them and strike-rate dwindles to 66.
So, it was no real surprise to see Kohli perfecting his craft against left-arm spin while facing Ravindra Jadeja at the nets, who also managed to elicit a couple of false shots from the Delhiite.
However, it was clear that Kohli has already measured in his mind the possible danger areas that he might have to traverse on the big day.
Ishan Kishan stays away
It was an optional session but all the Indian players except Ishan Kishan attended the nets.
In a novelty, pacer Jasprit Bumrah tried his hand in a bit of spin while head coach Rahul Dravid doubled up as a side-arm thrower.