Last month, Virat Kohli, the batter, was on fire. As England defeats Pakistan to win the 2022 T20 World Cup crown, Virat, the batter, stands tall at pole position as highest run gatherer – ‘296 runs in six matches with four fifties’.
A DREAM DISRUPTED
Despite the resurrection of Kohli, the dream of men in blue stands disrupted, with them timidly bowing out on Thursday from the semi-final, losing against rampaging England (the eventual winner of the trophy) , with the ignominy of being first in the T20 World Cup history to lose a match, twice by 10 wickets. India’s 168 proved sub-par at Adelaide small outfield in face of devastation unleashed by daredevil England openers.
Earlier Team India, piggybacking on Kohli’s stupendous form and Surya’s heroics topped Group-2, in Super 12, in a tournament which had no Winnows and no Cricketing Gods. Ireland outclassed England, Zimbabwe stunned Pakistan, Namibia sent Sri Lanka home, Netherlands put South Africans on plane to Johannesburg, defending champion Australia forced to bite dust at home ground and Jos Butler & Alex Hales butchered India’s dream of an ICC trophy.
ICC TROPHY: NOT OUR PITCH
With annihilation at the hands of England openers, India has now lost a World Cup semifinal in last four outings they reached there — 2015 and 2019 ODI World Cups, and 2016 and 2022 T20 World Cups.
Hard luck India? Not really. Timid India, probably yes.
In ICC tournaments, for the past five decades, India has ‘nothing much to crow about’. Exceptions are the ODI World Cup wins (1883, 2011), T20 World Cup win (2007) and Champions Trophy win (2013
The last ICC Trophy India won was the 2013 Champions Trophy defeating England by five runs at Birmingham. And India’s record in knockout games over the past decade is pathetic- out of 8 knockout games played across 50-over and 20-over formats, India lost six — two in finals and four in semi-finals.
T20 WORLD CUP: NOT OUR CUP OF TEA
T20 World cup, the most democratic form of the great game of cricket, has proved India’s waterloo — the victory parade of M S Dhoni boys in the 2007 inaugural world cup was indubitably the sole ‘Aha!’ moment and the latest 2022 semifinal loss to England is the worst heartache moment. If we remove the final in 2014 and semifinal in 2016, in other editions — 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2021 — India was sent packing home in league stage. In 2009, three losses on a trot to West Indies, England and South Africa, in 2010, consecutive defeats to Australia, West Indies and Sri Lanka, ejected in 2012 on poor run rate and outplayed by Pakistan and New Zealand in Super 12 in 2021.
CIRCA 2022: INTROSPECTION TIME
It did not have to be this way, but what can one expect when, in this most democratic form of cricket, everything goes wrong — toss smiles away, robbing India, the chase masters, the chance to chase; when team squanders Power Play (India 38/1 in six overs, England 63/0), when three of top four batters (Rohit, Rahul and Surya Kumar) proceed on holiday and when bowlers and 11 fielders take leave of absence. Unsurprisingly, the rescue act of labored (slower than desired) Kohli’s 50 out of 40 balls and Pandya’s scintillating 63 out of 33, was not enough to save India from getting decimated by the hailstorm Alex Hales (86 of 47) and clinical Jos Butler (80 of 49) crushed by England by 10 wickets with 24 balls to spare.
For those who watched the semi-final, the most vivid image will be of a distraught skipper Rohit Sharma, at the end of the match, standing alone in the field, head bowed, glum faced, in somber pensive mood, plucking his beard, lost deep in thought.
What transpired on Thursday does not need postmortem by argumentative Indians, nonetheless, it needs serious introspection and root cause analysis and a radical overhaul in the team composition and approach, like what England did to white ball team after early exit from 2015 ODI World Cup. It gave birth to ‘no-nonsense aggressive England team’.
Clearly India has had more waterloo moments than the Aha moments in shorter versions (T20 and ODI) World Cup and it is reset time to introspect, retrospect and fix the bug, to retool team for 2023 ODI World Cup to be held in India.
THE KING IS BACK
Though England has vanquished Pakistan to lift the World Cup, with India exiting in semi-final but posterity will hail it as a Virat Kohli tournament, where ‘King Kohli’ returned from the ashes, rising like a Phoenix to rescript history. His score — 296 runs in six matches @98.6 and 136 strike rate ( 25 fours, 8 sixes) — puts him far ahead of trivals Alex Hales, Jos Butler and Mohammad Rizwan who played the final.
Make no mistake, it was Kohli who largely facilitated India’s entry into the semi-final. One, King’s blazing 82 not out master class against Pakistan in 53 balls at a strike rate of 154.71 (from perilous India score 31/4) a match decided on the last ball; two, Kohli’s 64 not out in 44 balls against Bangladesh in a match India won by five runs and three, had Kohli got out at 0 instead of 62 runs that he made against the Netherlands, where India’s victory margin below runs scored by Kohli, India would have lost to minnows Netherland like South Africa.
But for King Kohli striking back, India would have been decimated in Super 12. Only match in which Kohli did not score, against South Africa, India lost.
THE PURPLE PATCH
Kohli, the proud holder of Sir Garfield Sobers Award for ICC Men’s Cricketer of the Decade (2010-2020), is in extraordinary purple patch, smashing world records at will. He has become the first batter to score 4000 runs in the shortest form of cricket. And with 1141 runs from 27 innings at 81.5 average in T20 World Cups, Kohli has gone way past Sri Lankan ICC Hall of the Famer Mahela Jayawardene (1016 runs, 31 innings, 39.07 average) and West Indian hurricane Chris Gayle (965 runs, 33 innings, 34.46 average) as highest scorer in T20 World Cup; Kohli has also scored the highest number of half centuries (14) in T20 World Cup history.
Also, with 319 and 273 runs in 2014 and 2016 World Cups respectively, Kohli is the only player to be awarded twice the T20 World Cup Player of the Tournament and was nominated for the third time but missed it narrowly today to Sam Curan who bagged maximum 13 witkets in the tournment . Also, Kohli has won the highest number of ‘Man of the Match Award’ at T20 World Cup and all these accolades Kohli have been collected in just five T20 World Cups he played.
Unsurprisingly, on November 7, Kohli was declared ‘ICC October Player of the Month’ based on the vote by global media, ICC Hall of Famers, former international players and registered fans.
For brevity’s sake, I say- ‘King Kohli is back’ and to paraphrase, Rohit Sharma, India’s captain as told in post-match talk to Harsha Bhogle after India defeated Pakistan, ‘Virat was always there’.
LEAVE HIM ALONE
T20 World Cup 2022 says loudly why Virat Kohli is King Kohli. It is QED (Quod Erat Demonstrandum) to Kohli baiters, time to shut their mouth. It is time to free Kohli from the unwarranted scrutiny, so to let him play his natural game. Till his willow keeps firing, team India will be the net beneficiary.
LONG YEARS AHEAD
On the fifth of November in midst of the World Cup, Kohli turned 34. With his fitness regime and passion for the game, I posit: ‘Virat has many more years of cricket left’. One should be cognizant that Vinu Mankad, yesteryear’s cricketing great and Sachin Tendulkar, modern era cricketing icon played beyond 40- Sachin played for 24 years. England’s James Anderson aged 40 years and 105 days (world’s most successful fast bowler with 174 test appearances and 656 wickets) has no intention to retire soon. And Sri Lankan Sanath Jayasuriya played till 42. Like wine these cricketing greats turned better with age.
Make no mistake, till Kohli enjoys cricket, he can play longer than Tendulkar and Jayasuriya. And Kohli’s T20 World Cup purple patch must be seen in conjunction with what he did in September in Asia Cup where he was India’s top-scorer — 276 runs, 5 matches, 2 fifties and one century.
It is time to leave Kohli alone, to do what he does best, enjoying playing cricket. Naysayers, when in doubt should read the most recent Wisden’s quote – Despite not having played in first three iterations of World Cup and ranking just 26th in terms of T20 World Cup appearances, Virat is the highest run scorer, has more scores of 50 pus and a higher average than anyone else in history.
Virat Kohli’s 82 not out against Pakistan in 2022 in T20 World Cup will for decades remain the stuff of the legend. And as Australian legend Ricky Ponting says, “Kohli’s back-foot straight six off the bowling of Pakistan speedster Haris Rauf in that inning before 90,000 strong crowd at MCG, will be rated as one of the best shots ever in the history of ICC Men’s T20 World Cup.”
And Kohli received the biggest tribute from England all-rounder Ben Stokes: “Virat Kohli has earned the right to be never written off. He has produced the numbers consistently in all three formats.”
Moral of the story: “Cricketing pundits, leave King Kohli alone.”
FORM IS TEMPORARY, CLASS PERMANENT
Cricket, like life, is a great leveler. The mighty fall when it matters the most. A look at the waterloo moments of world greatest batters, who have risen from ashes to script history:
First, Ricky Ponting (2000/01): 13 innings, 259 runs @ 23.54. The 2001 tour to India was Ponting’s worst where his best score was 11 in 5 innings, with 3 ducks.
Second, Sachin Tendulkar (2006): 13 innings, 335 runs @ 27.91. If one removes the score of 109 during the period, the equation turns into 224 from 12 innings.
Third, Brian Lara (1996): 9 innings, 226 runs @ 25.11. Australia’s tour was toughest for Lara where in six innings in three tests, his highest score was in single digit. Things changed at Adelaide in 1997 when Lara scored 78.
Four, AB de Villiers (2006/07): 150 runs, 12 innings @13.65. In back-to-back test series in India and Pakistan, his highest score in 12 innings was 25.
Five, Kumar Sangakkara (2003/04): 277 runs, 12 innings @ 25.18. In 2003/04 runs dried up suddenly, after a fifty against England in Galle, the next ten innings were without a fifty.
Six, Alastair Cook (2010): 226 runs, 10 innings @ 22.60. If one removes one century during the period, it becomes 116 runs from 9 innings. After best of 29 in 3 innings against Bangladesh, first five innings against Pakistan yielded just 47 runs.
Seven, Michael Clarke (2010/11): 228 runs, 13 innings @ 17.53. If one takes out 80 during the period, it becomes 168 in 12 innings. Six years after his dream debut in India, Clarke’s 2010 India tour was a disaster — 35 runs in 4 innings. In the next tour of Ashes, too, he gasped for runs.
Eight, Virat Kohli (2014): 134 runs, 10 innings @13.4. Indubitably, the 2014 summer was Kohli’s worst, a cruel reality check, when he regularly fell prey to James Anderson targeting his off stump. His best score in ten innings was 39 and six scores were in single digits. Kohli’s redemption happened in Australia, where he as India’s new Test captain, scored four centuries down under.
It is visible to the naked eye. All great cricketers undergo trying times in their long career, but no one has been bruised and battered by naysayers like Kohli.
THE YEAR THAT WAS
The year gone by was cruel for Kohli. It has been tortuous for the star batter who emerged out of the mental health break to find his mojo once again.
Kohli voluntarily gave up red ball captaincy to focus on batting, abdicated T20 and IPL captaincy for work-life balance and was unceremoniously ejected by the BCCI from ODI captaincy.
Worse, his form nosedived. Since November 2019, Kohli was without a century. Six past Indian cricketers — Kapil Dev, Karsan Ghavri, Ajay Jadeja, Wasim Jaffar, Zaheer Khan and Venkatesh Prasad — gunned for his scalp and dropping him from the 2022 T20 World Cup squad.
Kapil Dev said: “Yes, now situation is such, you might be forced to bench Kohli from T20 playing eleven. If world No. 2 bowler Ashwin can be dropped from Tests, then (former) world No. 1 batter can also be dropped.”
Karsan Ghavri, Kapil Dev’s bowling partner, also chipped in, “Players should be selected on merit. … Drop Virat as he is not in form. It’s as simple. Bring in guys in form. Virat Kohli is a big name, but where are the runs? How long can you play based on past reputation? He’s still stuck on 27 Test centuries. Meanwhile, Joe Root has surpassed him….”
Worse, Ghavri mercilessly blasted Kohli and Sharma for frequent leave of absence. “How much rest do Virat and Rohit need? How long did Virat bat in Test match? Playing for India should be their Number 1 priority. You should shoot for advertisements during IPL, not while playing for India.”
And ex-cricketer Aakash Chopra went further. In June 2022, he announced his own team for T20 World Cup, in which Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Rishabh Pant and Ravindra Jadeja were axed.
Worst is the take of obscure Bollywood producer KRK: “Virat Kohli is first Indian cricketer, having a problem with depression. Ye Hai result Ek heroine Se Shaadi Karne Ka (This is result of marrying an actor). She must have put in his head that he is having a depression problem.”
How much lower can the moral standards go?
Mercifully, Kohli has taken all this nonsense in stride and has done what he does best, replying with his mighty willow in the T20 World Cup.
WHEN CHIPS ARE DOWN, THERE ARE FEW BACKERS
When the chips were down for Kohli, he waged a lonely battle. It reminds me of what American President John F. Kennedy famously told a journalist after failure of the Bay of Pigs: “Victory has 100 fathers and defeat is an orphan.”
When the BCCI dropped Kohli as ODI Captain and Kohli blasted in his press conference, ex-cricketing great Sunil Gavaskar thundered: “What more Kohli wants.”
I could find only five backers of Kohli when he struggled – Dhoni — as Kohli himself says, England players Ben Stokes, Monty Parashar & James Anderson and former Australia skipper Ricky Ponting.
Ponting backed Kohli to rediscover his form when Kohli struggled for runs and had spent almost three years without a century. While speaking to ICC Review in July 2022, Ponting urged India selectors to persist with an out-of-form Kohli in the run-in to the T20 World Cup and for the Super 12 stage in Australia.
And what a tribute from Ponting: “Virat has been a champion player of the game in all three formats for a long period of time. One thing I’ve learnt about champion players is, you just never write them off. They always tend to find a way, particularly when it matters most, to dig deep and find a way to get a job done".
By ending his 1,021-day century drought with a stunning 122* from 61-ball against Afghanistan at Asia Cup in September and now breaking the record of ICC Hall of Famer Mahela Jayawardene, King Kohli has made Ponting, Dhoni, and India proud.
It is time for Kohli baiters to shut their mouths forever.
RAJA (KING) OR PRAJA (SUBJECTS), BOTH ARE HUMAN
Ever since Kohli announced in style his arrival on the big stage in 2008, he has shown his class as batter, fielder, leader and lately as mentor at the highest level of cricketing arena and has rightfully earned the moniker of ‘King Kohli’. But it is incredibly tough and lonely at the top. Playing for a long period at the highest level of any game is tortuous mind-slayer for players. Worse, talking about the mind demons more often turns into career slayers both for ordinary mortals and celebrities. It is excruciatingly tough fighting mental illness, but it is tougher talking about it publicly. Mercifully, Kohli has survived both and rescripted history umpteen times.
I will revert to it a bit later, but first a leaf from my personal life.
A LEAF FROM THE AUTHOR’S LIFE
The onslaught of mental illness puts sufferers atop treacherous lonely planet, and efforts to get down from there turns into ‘Sisyphean Curse’, akin to roasted alive in a frying pan.
I should know better, having lived for decades fighting mind demons, and as someone who in 2009 turned the first person in Indian subcontinent to publicly acknowledge the sufferance from alternate bouts of “abyss of deadening depression” and “mind flameout of splintering mania” brought in by the train of incurable bipolar disorder. I have been incredibly lucky to survive and thrive despite the malady and following Glasnost about my condition.
LONELIEST MAN ON PLANET EARTH
Returning to Virat Kohli, while he still led Team India across formats, he revealed about his black dog, about having battled depression during the tortuous and horrifying 2014 tour of England.
Kohli opened about this harsh truth of his cricketing career in a conversation with former England Player Mark Nicholas in the opening episode of the podcast, ‘Not Just Cricket’. “Yes, I did," was he uttered when asked “whether he had suffered from depression”.
Kohli added: “It’s not a great feeling to wake up knowing that you won’t be able to score, and I think all batsmen have felt that at some stage that you are not in control of anything and need professional help.
It is as candid as one can get.”
While talking of trials and tribulations in the “summer of 2014 in England”, Kohli confessed: “I just didn’t know what to do, what to say, how to speak, how to communicate. I could have said that I am not feeling great mentally and need to get away from the game. But you never know how that’s taken… I just did not understand how to get over it. That was a phase when I literally couldn’t do anything to overturn things…I felt like I was the loneliest guy in the world."
In that disastrous tour in the summer of 2014, Kohli’s performance with the bat was disastrous — 1, 8, 25, 0, 39, 28, 0, 7, 6 and 20 in ten innings of five Tests, averaging 13.50. It was only in the Australia Tour as the newly anointed captain of Team India, that Kohli regained purple patch scoring 692 runs (including four centuries) in the Test series.
Kohli has just shown he means business to the cricket world. He has also announced boldly: “He is he” and “king is human too”. Moreover, he has proved umpteen times that he is not the depression he suffered in England.
IT IS OK NOT TO BE OK
While publicly admitting his vulnerabilities to mind demons, Kohli has entered the Hall of Fame of celebrities who have taken their mind maladies head on and taken time off to nurse their mental health -swimmer Michael Phelps, tennis star Naomi Osaka, actor Deepika Padukone, gymnast Simone Bile, cricketers Ben Stokes, Glenn Maxwell and Andrew Flintoff.
I pray, let the tribe of these courageous celebrities rise. It not only normalizes mental health conversation, but also stamps out the deeply intrenched stigma.
These celebrities believe mental health issues cannot be brushed under the carpet as they are life and career slayers. Karsan Ghavris of the world need to be educated that “it is okay not to be okay” and “it is okay to take leave of absence to nurse mental health”.
KING KOHLI: THE BALANCE SCORECARD
It is time now, I create 360 degree ‘Balance Scorecard’ of King Kohli — the batter,, captain, and mentor of youngsters.
Here I go:
One, the New Kid on the Block: In 2008, Virat Kohli arrived on the big league, after leading Team India to glory in Under-19 World Cup. His ODI debut was in August 2008 in Dambulla, Sri Lanka, where he opened the innings with Gautam Gambhir. His scores modestly in the five matches — 12, 37, 25, 51 and 31, but thundered in style in 2009, batting at the fourth position, after cheap dismissal of Tendulkar and Sehwag, and scored a scintillating century and forged a 224-run partnership with Gambhir to chase 316 against Sri Lanka. But Kohli’s Test debut, happened only on June 11, 2011 at Jamaica against West Indies, a match in which he scored 4 and 15.
And, Kohli has not looked back since then.
Two, the Next Big Thing: It was tough for Kohli to cement his place in a side having cricketing Gods like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Gautam Gambhir and Virendra Sehwag. But he did so in style, becoming the ICC ODI Player of the Year in 2013, T20 World Cup Player of Tournament in 2014 and 2016 and ICC number one ranked Test batsman in 2018 (first Indian since Sachin Tendulkar in June 2011). By the time Kohli turned 24 in 2012, in his three-and-a-half-year career, he had already become the fastest Indian to score 1000 ODI runs and the youngest to lead Delhi in Ranji Trophy. He had also shown character and steely nerve to arrive in the morning after his father’s death to take Delhi to victory from a precarious position in a Ranji game.
Three, Numbers Speak: In Asia Cup against Afghanistan at Dubai in September, with his unbeaten 122 off 61 balls, Kohli equaled Ricky Ponting’s record of 71 centuries. He now trails behind only Tendulkar who has 100 centuries.
27 centuries and 28 half centuries in Test; 43 centuries and 64 half centuries in ODI and, 1 century and 54 half centuries speak volumes. Tendulkar played till 40, Virat just turned 34.
Four, Fastest sprint to 24000: In September, Kohli turned fastest to cross 24000 international runs in 522 innings. Others who reached there were Tendulkar (543 innings), Ponting (565 innings), Kallis (573 innings), and Sangakkara (591 innings). It tells all about the consistency of Virat Kohli.
Five, the Run Machine: Kohli has scored 8074 runs from 174 innings in 102 test, 12344 runs from 262 ODI matches in 153 innings and 3880 runs from 110 T20 matches in 102 innings.
Batsman Virat Kohli is the only batsman in the history to average more than 50 in Tests, ODIs, and T20Is simultaneously. If Kohli is allowed to play his natural game, Kohli is set to break most records by the time he turns 40.
Six, Born to Lead: In tests, Kohli has an impeccable record — captain in 68 Test matches winning 40, becoming the most successful Indian Test captain. In 24 test series he captained, he won 18, and did not lose a single series at home. In seven years as a Test captain, Kohli scored the highest number of double centuries and became highest run-getter as Indian Test captain. Kohli took over as Test captain, when India was ranked 7th and he relinquished Captaincy when India ranked No.1.
In ODI, Kohli captained India in 95 matches winning 65. He scored 21 centuries as a captain, the second highest number of ODI centuries as a captain, only behind Ponting’s tally of 22 international centuries. Kohli has the highest ODI batting average as a captain, with an average of over 72.
In T20, Kohli captained India in 50 matches with 30 wins. He has scored most T20I runs as an Indian captain. He is the world’s fourth most successful T20I captain and the second most successful in India. Kohli captained India in 17 T20I bilateral series and won 12. India lost just 2 series under him.
Seven, The Accolades: Kohli is the only Indian batsman who got 890 rating points in the ICC ODI ranking (Sachin Tendulkar got 887 in 1998), he also had the privilege of having the highest rating point (922) in the ICC Player Ranking for the Test Batsman. In five appearances in T20 World Cup, Kohli has been twice (2014 and 2016) awarded Player of the Tournament maximum by any player. He also has the distinction to hit three consecutive centuries against two teams (West Indies and Sri Lanka).
Eight, Awards that Rained: In a career spanning 13 years, awards and rewards have rained on Kohli, which include Arjuna Award (2013) Padma Shri (2017), Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna (2018), Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy ( ICC Cricketer of the Decade), ICC Test Team of the Year (2017), ICC ODI Team of the Year: 2012, 2014, 2016 (captain), 2017 (captain); ICC ODI Player of the Year ( 2012, 2017), T20 World Cup Player of the Tournament (2014, 2016 and may be 2022).
Many more will come his way.
POSTSCRIPT: THE FUTURE PERFECT
In King Kohli, India has a cricketer whom the opposition is in awe of, whose sheer presence on the crease and in the field raises the intensity of the contest. He lives every ball and competes every nano second and has the passion, fitness and mental strength to achieve what others can only dream. Tendulkar lived, played and retired on his terms at 40. Kohli, who just turned 34, has years of cricket left in him. Just let him play his natural game. It is time to reset the memory button of Virat Baiters. Indian player Rustomji Jamshedji played his first test for India when he was 41 years, 27 days and when James Southerton debuted for England, he was 49 years, 119 days.
Age is just a number. It is passion, drive and fitness which defines a cricketer and thy name is King Kohli
Akhileshwar Sahay is a Multidisciplinary Thought Leader with Action Bias and Impact Consultants. He is an avid sports watcher. Sahay works as President Advisory Services of Consulting Major BARSYL. Views are personal and do not reflect the views of this Publication or the Organization where he works.
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