Virat Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah: A concerning slump or just an aberration?

Sahil Jain

Kohli and Bumrah missed the mark in the first Test against New Zealand

51, 15, 9, (ODIs); 2 and 19 (first Test).

0/53, 0/64, 0/50 (ODIs); 1/88 (first Test).

When you look at these numbers you rarely expect the names Virat Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah associated with the stats. But these are the returns of Kohli and Bumrah respectively on this New Zealand tour. Let’s keep aside the T20Is for now.

These are two of the biggest superstars in Indian cricket at the moment. They literally run their respective departments and have been churning out performances for fun. However, they’ve struck a slump almost at the same time and that’s something no one could ever imagine a few months back. The duo’s form has been almost directly proportional to India’s dismal run since the end of the T20I series. Their form has been crucial to the team's fortunes in Test cricket, especially overseas.

In fact, Kohli seems to be in a rut and has gone through 20 innings without an international ton. This is his third-biggest streak without a hundred in international cricket with 25 (February to October 2014) and 24 innings (February and September 2011) being the other two bigger ones.

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Kohli’s last ton was against Bangladesh in the day-night Test match at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata. Since then, the Indian skipper has struck six half-centuries and averages 41.88. Yes, just. That’s because it’s Virat Kohli. The standards he’s set to have touched the roof. He was batting well in the home series against West Indies and Australia. Conversion seemed to be the only problem which has never been one till 2019 but strangely it has become, especially in ODI cricket. But this trip to New Zealand has seen him sink in form.

I am absolutely fine. I am batting really well. I feel that sometimes scores don't reflect the way you are batting and that's what can happen when you don't execute what you want to well,” Kohli said when he was asked about his form after the first Test in Wellington.

India will need Kohli to get back to his usual antics again

While Kohli may say all he wants but there is a definite slump. In nine innings on this tour, he’s crossed the fifty-run mark just once. He’s gone through four successive international innings without going past 20.

Kohli’s two dismissals in the first Test at the Basin Reserve in Wellington were interesting. He chased at a wide one from Kyle Jamieson only to edge to first slip in the first innings. The Delhi lad was on just 2 and he wanted to put pressure on Jamieson who was causing some trouble. But he failed to do so. Even in the second innings, he looked very eager to get on with things. He looked to force the pace of the innings and looked pretty unsettled. Kohli was eventually dismissed by a well-directed short delivery from Trent Boult who forced the error out of Kohli.

Even in the third ODI, he looked iffy and was beaten on a number of occasions before he smoked a six over long-on and was eventually caught at third-man slashing at a wide one, which he normally avoids early in his innings.

We’ve seen a pretty uncharacteristic Virat Kohli on this tour. He’s so eager to get on with things that it seems to have affected his game. Things haven't been too dissimilar for Bumrah either.

The Gujarat pacer has seen a proper dip in form as well and has picked up just 10 wickets from 15 international matches since his comeback from injury. Yes, it does take time for one to get back into rhythm and hit the straps. However, if that’s the case, it’s taking Bumrah too long. It may be argued that this was Bumrah’s first big injury lay-off and he played his first Test since September last year but 15 international games is quite a significant number to get back into the groove.

All Bumrah has managed is six wickets on this tour – five came in the T20I series with 3/12 in one of the games and one more wicket came in the first Test. India’s premier pacer has struggled for consistency. In fact, he hardly got the ball to move around in that first Test. After going wicketless in the ODI series, he seemed to be trying too hard in the longest format. It looked as if he was rushing through his spell.

Jasprit Bumrah

Before the injury, he was ripping through batting line-ups for fun. Be it in England, Australia or the Caribbean, the Gujarat lad was making the ball talk. However, that’s gone quiet now. He’s gone wicketless in seven out of the 15 games and has picked up more than one wicket just once. He averages 54.20 in international cricket since his comeback which is nearly two and a half times his career average.

Hence, India’s two big superstars seem to be going through a rut and that too, at the same time. And the worse part about it is that India are reliant on these two to deliver, especially overseas and it’s hurt them big time. It led to a drubbing (3-0 white-wash) in the ODI series and now, the No. 1 ranked Test team has lost the first Test in Wellington as well.

Every time India do well overseas, it’s Kohli and Bumrah hogging headlines. Take every Indian Test win overseas and you will see Bumrah and Kohli at the top in most games.

Kohli and Bumrah's contributions in India's overseas wins since the start of 2018.

Look at the table above, it’s displays each of India’s overseas wins since January 2018 and Kohli and Bumrah’s performance in each of those. Barring the Test match in Adelaide where Cheteshwar Pujara was brilliant with the bat, Kohli has at least got one fifty in the game and Bumrah has picked up five wickets in that match. There’s absolutely no doubt there have been other contributions. But the way these two have performed, it makes them standout.

In fact, be it wins, be it losses, game after game, they've stepped up and they are the ones taking the bullet upfront and leading the charge and standing up. That table above shows how important Kohli and Bumrah are to this Indian Test side. They were far from their best in Wellington. It seems a like a slump which is pretty unusual fo both.

If India are to challenge the Kiwis and try to square the series in addition to securing 60 World Test Championship (WTC) points, Kohli and Bumrah need to turn on the heat. India will hope that this is just an aberration. New Zealand will come out with the similar plans once again for both Kohli and Bumrah. They will be wary of that. It's no secret that both of them love challenges and they will be up for it. India will hope that their two big superstars can step up, they need them the most now.