Virat Kohli got out the first ball in two consecutive innings in the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL) - against Lucknow Super Giants and Sunrisers Hyderabad. That's a new low for the former India and Royal Challengers Bangalore captain and he had never scored two consecutive golden ducks neither in international cricket nor in the IPL.
He has now gone 101 innings in competitive cricket without scoring a hundred. A player who used to smash hundreds for fun hasn't scored one in the last three years. Is this the beginning of the end of a modern-day great?
Kohli's last century came on 22 November 2019 against Bangladesh. Since then he has scored 24 fifties in international cricket, the most by an Indian batter during this period. Not only that, he has scored more runs than anyone else in the India team since that hundred.
But the average has considerably come down to 37. So there's definitely been a slump of form. He has set the bar so high for himself that a batter of an average of 38 in ODIs and 56 in T20Is in the last three years is said to be 'out of form'.
The prime reason behind that is Kohli's poor run in Tests, by anyone's standards. Since his 70th international hundred, he averages only 28 with just six fifties in 30 innings. At the time of that hundred, his average was 55 and it has now come down to 49.96. The average has fallen below 50 for the first time since 2017.
Kohli's weakness outside the off-stump line seems to have resurfaced. A high-flying Kohli endured a disastrous England tour in 2014 with an average of 13.50 in ten innings. He frequently got out caught at slips to the likes of James Anderson and the line outside the off-stump more often than not got the better of him.
He worked very hard on that weakness and in his next England tour, he roared back with 593 runs in five Tests. He was no longer vulnerable to that outside off-stump line. Or was he?
Kohli got out, in the same manner, nine times - starting from the World Test Championship final against New Zealand. Even in the last IPL game, he edged one off Marco Jansen and the similar line once again led to his undoing.
The way he has been getting out on low scores continuously is very un-Kohli-like. For a batter who is technically very strong and extremely fit physically, it looked like it was a matter of time before he returned to form. He probably needs one innings to get back his mojo but that one innings is not simply happening. Kohli is now struggling for even a single run.
It has been a tough 12 months for Kohli though. He stepped down as captain of India and RCB and there was a lot of drama as the statements of Kohli and BCCI president Sourav Ganguly contradicted each other. The controversies must have worn him out and shifted his focus to non-cricketing factors. Shortly after that, he was playing under a different captain in all three formats. For someone who has led a team for so many years, it must have been a bit tough for him to adjust.
But it won't be right to say that Virat Kohli is finished. He is just 33. Yes, players like Graeme Smith retired at this age. A batter generally is in his prime in the late twenties and the decline starts in the thirties. Kohli may not regain that insane form but some fighting innings in the recent past - 79 in Newlands, fifties in Oval and Headingley, 62 in Chennai, 74 in Adelaide Oval - suggest that he has still got it. The lack of consistency is something he has to work on in Tests.
In the IPL, the atmosphere, the glamour and the expectations are different. There is not enough time between games to relax mentally and reflect. So it is difficult for Kohli or any batter to turn things around dramatically. Experts like Ravi Shastri suggested that the packed schedule has a lot to do with his lack of form and he needs a break from cricket.
Also, what he can do is to follow Cheteshwar Pujara and play some county cricket where there are fewer expectations and fewer media coverage. Pujara has already found some form there, scoring a double hundred and a hundred in two matches and that's something Kohli can also do. All the greats of cricket have had lean patches but they have found ways to bounce back. Sachin Tendulkar was dubbed 'Endulkar' in 2006 but he had his best year in 2010, at the age of 37. There is no denying the fact that Kohli has been out of form but for a cricketer so fit like him, it should be a matter of one innings to regain his form.