While we slide into the 12th season, is it a bit too much to look for reason? Should it be played? That is still being asked. Should it be played so close to a World Cup – be it before one or after one?
Try as I may, putting that 2011 season behind me is not easy. Should it be? Please don’t say what happened in 2011. If you’re still wondering, please stop reading.
Oh, you’re still here. So, you know, Sri Lanka lost the World Cup that year. The only way you can lose the World Cup is if you make the finals.
But India went a step further, and lost it too. Not the World Cup, but in the IPL that followed. They followed that with marathon Test losses in England and Australia.
Who won the IPL in 2011? Remember that one? Did you have to google that?
Who won the World Cup in 2011?
Who lost those Test series in 2011-12?
So, here we are in 2019. And there will be fresh answers. Can Kohli be the answer?
Can he win the IPL in 2019? Looks unlikely. But back in 2008, when Shane Warne’s Rajasthan Royals couldn’t get the ball beyond the square in their IPL opener, they looked unlikely winners too.
Warne possibly had more belief in winning the IPL then than Lalit Modi had in winning it with the IPL. And that says a lot.
Warne’s belief superseded his skills back then. And possibly those of his team. With that thought, he rubbed so much belief into that bunch that they ended up doing what they did.
RCB’s greatest strength, that works in unison, is the crowd chant at Bangalore’s M Chinnaswamy stadium.
Today, as for many seasons now, Kohli has failed to believe that he is RCB’s greatest strength. He believes, as do many that watch, that AB de Villiers is their greatest strength.
Whether those are appearances or fandom giving in to a spectacle, is of little consequence.
In spite of ABde’s spectacular 70*(41) vs MI, RCB lost. In spite of five wickets in hand. In spite of this and in spite of that.
After three matches and three defeats, RCB are at the bottom. Silver lining, they lost to the best three teams. The first defeat, more against a surface than a team.
Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers during match against KKR.
The spotlight, as often has been in the recent past, will be on Kohli. Not just the batsman but the captain. How he walks out of Dhoni’s looming shadow and trusts his own instincts will be telling across the next two tournaments.
Whether he is prepared to walk past ABde’s aura and trust his own, could salvage RCB’s sinking season.
Opening the batting in 2016, Kohli clocked 973 runs. At 152, his highest strike rate for any season. Throw in all his four IPL centuries. KL Rahul too hit the high notes partnering him on top.
Now neither Rahul nor the opening remain. Instead, makeshift openers. If makeshift or half measures defined Kohli, he would be a fraction of the player he is.
But the World Cup looms and Kohli is in conservation mode. A mode that defies him from opening, scoring hundreds, winning games singlehandedly.
Top that, ABde comes in at four. If there is one lesson to be learnt from Sunrisers Hyderabad, it’s stack your best T20 batsmen upfront – David Warner and Jonny Bairstow open. And dent the opposition so hard, no body shop will fix them.
And if for whatever reason Kohli doesn’t see himself opening, then it’s time to push ABde to the top. Look no further than Rajasthan Royals to see what Jos Buttler’s definitive knocks on top achieve – strike rates well in excess of 150 opening the batting win matches. And mess with bowlers’ minds. So much easier for those that follow to feast on.
While leaders and batsmen such as Dhoni have dovetailed their ODI story into the IPL and thrived; it’s taken years of sameness in thought and personnel.
While Dhoni thrives on calm, does Kohli thrive on disruption? His batting order and bowling sequence is anything but that. Is Kohli’s disruptive veneer hiding a more conservative cricketing mind? A mind that brings on spin in the seventh over to Quinton de Kock? With an off-break bowler in the XI, why would you allow de Kock the breathing room for seven overs? And if Ali is too part-time, surely Chahal, often a power-play mainstay, should have gatecrashed de Kock’s party.
RCB’s third match, and Kohli opened the bowling with Moeen Ali. It’s another thing, Bairstow and not Warner took strike. 14 off the over. By the third over, Chahal was on. 11 off the over. Two overs and 25 runs later, Kohli dropped the spin option in the power play.
Then there is Kohli the T20 batsman, not too unlike his ODI avatar. Scarcely playing in the air, unless a Bumrah bouncer (and IPL promo) beseech him to.
Even before season 12 began, Kohli was looking to mother his World Cup squad; to see if the workload could be balanced. Trouble is, there is very little balance in the IPL. In spite of doing away with some of its excesses, the itineraries and summer will be just as punishing.
Perhaps, it’s time for Kohli to adopt an approach that has served him well in Test cricket. Perhaps, it’s time for all of Kohli to be switched on.
Whether this means he opens or Parthiv doesn’t, it’s up to him. In sport, it’s tiresome to keep losing because of the same old mistakes.
So far RCB has opened with Kohli/Patel, Patel/Ali, Patel/Hetmyer. Fourth match, Hetmyer/ Grandhomme?
To stop worrying about Moeen and Parthiv's utility down the order, could be a start. Once you’re not bothered about your No. 6 and 7’s batting, you’re already living in the moment.
And isn’t that what T20 cricket is about?
(Gaurav Sethi branded Bored Cricket Crazy Indians (BCC!) to bring bloggers together. He also branded Che Pujara, Jatman and Thank You Sachin! – as a cartoon, before it became a farewell cry. He used to work on brands. Now he works on himself. He tweets at @BoredCricket)
First Published: April 1, 2019, 1:19 PM IST