Drama! - Kohli and the Elusive World Cup
Heavy burden on Virat Kohli
Few men would know the heavy burden that Virat Kohli must carry in his heart, moving away from the ordeal of attempting to rewrite history at the Indian Premier League to now making an implausibly seeming final hurrah as captain of what is undoubtedly one of the most drama filled entry on the part of the Indian cricket team into the ICC Twenty20 World Cup.
The Indian captain’s bluster is presently in imminent danger of meeting a dusty fate.
The Royal Challengers Bangalore bid a bittersweet adieu to their captain of nearly a decade as they bowed out of contention for the title of the IPL champions 2021, losing in the eliminator to Kolkata Knight Riders. While Kohli has vowed to remain loyal to the RCB team, which whom he began his IPL journey back in 2008, his chequered history as far as the barren trophy goes met a calamitous fate in the end, drawing both, intrigue and flak his way as has been his bane ever since he took on the mantle of captaincy.
While this unshackling, which he announced after informing the public that he was stepping down as India’s Twenty20 captain post the upcoming ICC Twenty20 World Cup 2021, is likely to free up Kohli as a batsman, the grim reaping is likely to continue a fair bit longer unless India pull off the unthinkable and come home with antics not unlike 2007 when a maverick captain in the form of Mahendra Singh Dhoni led India to victory.
Not any victory but something that neither the BCCI nor Ravi Shastri, working as a commentator at the time, had put much faith in. Realistically speaking, the BCCI had shown little interest in Twenty20 until that moment prompting a flurry of activity to dismantle the ‘rebel’ Indian Cricket League and rebuild a model not unlike it in the form of the Indian Premier League.
Make no mistake. Virat Kohli will be feeling heat under the collar at the ICC Twenty World Cup 2021 in the UAE. It might seem as if pressure is off his shoulders as far as pulling off a World Cup victory is concerned now that he has announced his decision to relinquish the captaincy from the Indian Twenty20 men’s team. However, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has put enough thorns in the path of the affluent batsman to make his journey tricky enough. Not that Kohli himself did not have a part to play in it.
It is easy to antagonize a team. Kohli found that out the hard way after he came down scathingly on the team he should have taken responsibility for in the first place in light of the World Test championship defeat to New Zealand. Not known to be the most easy going of captains on the field, Kohli found himself in the deep end not shortly after.
Trapped between a cantankerous coach in Ravi Shastri who remained unfazed by the criticism of how his actions for his book launch might have potentially put India between a rock and a hard place, not to mention having done Test cricket a great disservice, and a career that has raised more questions when it came to captaincy following in the footsteps of a captain with an imperious record when it comes to white ball cricket, Kohli is facing a grim end to his own white ball captaincy, sealed even before a single ball was bowled in the World Cup originally slated to be held in India.
To be fair, Virat Kohli’s numbers cast a different light. With most runs as a captain in the IPL with 4,881 runs and most runs in a single season with nearly 1000 runs in 2016 after taking over Daniel Vettori as the Royal Challengers Bangalore captain in 2012, with most centuries numbering 5 and most half-century at the 50 mark, Kohli’s batting tells a different story.
But even that has not been enough to keep him at the helm in franchisee cricket – the writing on the wall for a fair bit of time now, the lack of trophy in the RCB cabinet increasingly weighing him down despite this being the second time that RCB have managed to make it to the eliminator but failing to get past in consecutive seasons.
Kohli is aware of the fact that his runs and personal achievements count for little when pitted against the team’s missing champions tag. He expressed it as much as the outgoing captain of the RCB at the end of the Eliminator, including his own take on his leadership irrespective of how it is being appraised in the public eye and within the cricket board itself.
Speaking of his efforts for the RCB, Kohli stated, “All I can say is that I’ve tried my best to create a culture here where youngsters could come in and play expressive cricket, play with belief. It’s something I’ve tried to do at the Indian team level as well.”
It is the perfect storm.
Should India fall once again at the hurdle of the World Cup, the BCCI would be happy to deliver the blame at the doorstep of the Indian captain. But missing will go the footnote of how this is not the first time that Indian cricket, i.e. the Indian Premier League and the ICC Twenty20 World Cup, have locked horns as far as dates are concerned, packing international affairs like sardines in a tin box that included the likes of beggars-cannot-be-choosers tertiary teams like West Indies and Zimbabwe, and more recently, even Sri Lanka.
Ironically for Virat Kohli, even a rare World Cup victory is unlikely to save his crown. It seems that ship has sailed already and Kohli’s pre-emptive strike of an announcement in the hope of salvaging the one day internationals captaincy for a time might not do the trick after all, a conclusion he himself might arrive at if India don’t live up to potential as one of the favourites to lift the trophy.
India might have already cooked their goose in that sense, as the pot broiler is set to hit the stands.
The return of Dhoni as mentor aka strategist to put checks on the reins of Kohli’s captaincy and his think tank that includes Shastri - is being seen as the BCCI not only undermining the present leadership in the dressing room but also, sending a message after the fracas in England over the covid exposure and fifth Test abandonment.
With the captaincy a done deal as also the coach’s tenure at the end of the competition, the intensity has either been amped up or whittled down in the game of knives and daggers about disgruntled team members and a disharmonious dressing room, in the face of reports alleging of some team members having disclosed their displeasure of the captain to the board.
For Kohli, the lack of worthy showing at the ICC Twenty20 World Cup is likely to hammer the nail in the coffin of his attempt to extend the longevity of his captaincy with the white ball. Some within the cricket fraternity think it is already a foregone conclusion that Kohli will have to cede the captaincy in the fifty overs format as well – the confusion over split captaincy not being a primary criteria presently for the BCCI, irrespective of whether the speculation is true or not about Kohli blocking Rohit Sharma’s appointment in favour of candidates younger than him including the likes of KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant.
But it does seem like sound logic even if the interpretation - providing there is credibility to the rumours, may be that Kohli was looking to secure his position for a few more years down the line.
The silver lining in the scenario - difficult as it seems for India to be playing as a cohesive unit with the IPL ending just two days before the commencement of the ICC Twenty20 World Cup 2021, is that Kohli actually holds Dhoni in high self-esteem and will welcome the opportunity to master mind with the former captain under whom he has flourished. Although the context in which Dhoni has been brought in might be dubious, it might be the only partnership that might actually pitch for India reliving their success from 2007.
A far shot, with many arrows already pointing in different directions, another Indian Twenty20 World Cup campaign gets underway not without drama.