File photo of Virat Kohli.© AFP
It is 2019, and Virat Kohli is scoring runs for fun. He has just gotten a hundred against Bangladesh in India’s inaugural day-night Test at the Eden Gardens. Every pundit and fan believes that the right-hander is the best batter currently and if anybody then would say that three years down the line, Kohli’s place in the T20 setup would be a big concern and there would be calls to bench him, one might just laugh at the audacity of the thought. Fast forward to 2022, and one seriously needs to ask does Virat in his present form deserves a place in the T20 lineup?
In 2022, Kohli has played four T20Is for India so far, registering scores of 17, 52, 1, and 11. The last two scores came against England in the T20Is. There was a time when one couldn’t look beyond Kohli at the number three spot in T20Is. He was the quintessential pivot, who kept the innings together with his ability to rotate the strike and also score fast runs, when needed. But both those abilities are now on the wane, temporarily if not forever.
What makes matters more complicated is that Deepak Hooda has scored runs in the top order and his strike-rate has been top-notch. This is the primary reason fans took to social media to express their disappointment when Hooda was benched for the second T20I as Kohli walked into the lineup.
In the last 10 T20I innings, Kohli’s scores have been 77, 1, 80, 57, 9, 2, 17, 52, 1, and 11. Now, if one goes just by numbers, one would say how can Kohli be dropped if he has four fifties in his last 10 games? It is important to note that 6 of these matches were played last year, and there is a vast contrast between then and now.
Kohli might not have hit an international ton since November 2019, but he was still getting fifties and it was just about the maverick batter not being able to reach the three-figure mark. However, now the batter definitely looks out of form, and from the outside, it seems that the right-handed batter is trying to manufacture shots out of nothing, at least in the shortest format.
Kohli is not a sort of a batter who just tees off from the get-go, however, it has looked like he is trying too hard. Kohli’s IPL numbers weren’t great as well this year, with him registering just 341 runs in 16 games at a strike-rate of 115.99.
Now, talking about the youngsters, Deepak Hooda has come into his own in the last few matches and he is providing that firepower at the top which is needed in a T20 game. What makes matters worse for Kohli is that Team India have finally realised that they need to attack from the get-go in order to have the best chance of posting scores of 180-200 consistently. With this pressure, Kohli might try too hard and his slump in form might just continue further. And if one is realistic, Team India need Kohli the batter more in Tests and ODIs rather than T20Is.
In the last T20 World Cup, the biggest roadblock for India was the batting approach and how KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma, and Virat Kohli batted in almost the same gears. In 2022, India have truly found a rejuvenated lineup, with batters going hell for leather right from ball one.
Kohli has played 98 T20Is so far, scoring 3297 runs at an average of 50.72 and strike-rate of 137.94. Overall numbers cannot be debated but with the kind of form the batter has been in this year, and with the World Cup in Australia a few months away, do the selectors want to give a long rope to the batter in the shortest format, or do they ask Kohli to concentrate in ODIs and Tests and work towards finding his mojo back.
Sure, benching Kohli is not an easy task. The fans would become vocal, and there might be pundits who might criticise the move left, right and centre. Captain Rohit Sharma’s passionate defence of Kohli in the press conference after the third T20I against England shows just how integral Kohli is to the team’s plans.
Head coach Rahul Dravid has already had his share of tough decisions after taking charge like dropping Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane for Tests against Sri Lanka, dropping Wriddhiman Saha from the Test squad, and vocally telling him that he would not be considered for selection as they want to try out youngster Srikar Bharat. He also oversaw a rather difficult transition of captaincy and has had to deal with way more rotations in captaincy and team due to injuries.
However, dealing with the Kohli issue might be his most difficult task so far. It is a tough road ahead for everyone but the good part is that India have a lot of matches lined up to give opportunities to everyone and eventually make the call that would serve the team the best.
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