Captain. Batter. Icon. Virat Kohli is indeed one of the modern greats. An exciting performer at the crease, always setting new benchmarks for excellence. But Captain Kohli is yet to lead his charges to an ICC world title.
For those who have followed him from the time he was making waves in local cricket in Delhi, it is hardly surprising to see him navigate the choppy waters of international cricket — as a batter — with elan.
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Kohli has played cricket on his own terms. There have been a few hiccups in his career when critics doubted his credentials, but he has always managed to hit back. He is at the top as a Test batter and has some remarkable feats in ODI cricket. But his performance in the T20 format has often been scrutinised.
“There is an electrifying presence when Virat is at the crease,” former India captain Kapil Dev had observed. This was after that incredible shot that Kohli had played against Chris Woakes in an ODI in Pune in early 2017. It was a shot that signified Virat Kohli the batter. Woakes tried surprising him with a slower delivery. Kohli was committed to playing his shot. The ball dropped short of a length, but he was quick to adapt. The fact that Kohli went ahead with the shot only confirmed his reputation as a special batter. The shot fetched him a six and earned him raving appreciation.
In fine nick: As an opener in this IPL, Virat Kohli has scored 405 runs at a strike rate of 119.46 with three half-centuries. – PTI
“I don’t know how I executed it. I was surprised,” Kohli said after the match. Critics, since then, have continued comparing his ability to play such magical shots against good deliveries. He has always felt the pressure to perform, and it becomes more intense in a T20 game where a few dot balls can be the difference between failure and success.
This pressure to perform has often created a situation where Kohli would have to battle the inner demons, curtailing his desire to play with freedom. As a T20 batter, his job should be to give the team a direction at the top. As an opener in the recently-concluded IPL, Kohli has scored 405 runs at a strike rate of 119.46 with three half-centuries. His numbers for India as an opener are even better — he averages 39.71 with a 148.66 strike rate (Runs: 278, Highest Score: 80, Innings: 8, 50s: 2).
The debate is should Kohli open for Team India? K. L. Rahul and Rohit Sharma have settled into the role of openers but the argument that the best batter should get to play more balls holds merit. Kohli can open the innings, take charge at the top, and push Rahul to anchor the innings since Suryakumar Yadav has struggled to time the ball in recent times.
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Kohli is yet to score a century in T20 cricket. A century in T20 is not the same as a hundred in an ODI. “People should also remember that Kohli is always the main target for the opposition. It is not always about runs but the impact of a knock,” insists former all-rounder Manoj Prabhakar. “I love tough situations,” Kohli has said. A batter of his calibre knows the value of runs scored in specific situations. So, he tries his best. If that best is not good enough to win the game for India or Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), Kohli is the first to accept that he needs to improve.
Virat Kohli as captain:
As a T20 batter, Kohli has produced some scintillating innings. In the last T20I series that Kohli was part of — against England — he scored three half-centuries, including an 80 while opening the innings. A total of 28 fifties in 90 innings may not do justice to Kohli’s batting skills but he has played many match-winning knocks for the country.
Interestingly, Kohli has remained unbeaten in most of his match-winning performances: 82 not out (Mohali) and 90 not out (Adelaide) against Australia in 2016; 78 not out (Colombo) against Pakistan in 2012; 70 not out (Mumbai) and 94 not out (Hyderabad) against the West Indies in 2019; 73 not out and 80 not out at Ahmedabad against England in 2021.
For all his accomplishments, Kohli does stutter in the middle overs, struggling to switch gears despite blistering starts. He loves to rotate the strike furiously, but he tends to lose his focus when runs don’t come in a canter. “Kohli is very good at picking the ball early to hit,” says his coach Rajkumar Sharma.
But of late Kohli has been losing his rhythm when the bad balls do not come often. His hand-eye coordination is not at its best but given his talent and capacity to come back, one can expect Kohli to iron his flaws ahead of the ICC World T20.
Though he has failed to win an ICC T20 or IPL title, he has led the team to series wins in SENA nations – Australia, England, South Africa, and New Zealand. India defeated South Africa in 2017-18, England in 2018, New Zealand in 2020, and the fantastic triumph in Australia in early 2021. He was Man of the Series when India beat England at home in the last series. Critics would do well to remember that Kohli is India’s leading run-scorer in the T20s with 3159 runs at an average of 52.65.
The ICC World T20 will be Kohli’s last tournament in that format as a captain. “Understanding workload is a very important thing and considering my immense workload over the last 8-9 years playing all three formats and captaining regularly for the last 5-6 years, I feel I need to give myself space to be fully ready to lead the Indian Team in Test and ODI cricket. I have given everything to the Team during my time as T20 captain,” he has said.
The T20 World Cup in the UAE offers him the platform to cement his legacy. His fans wait eagerly.