Virat Kohli’s neck injury, just weeks ahead of his county stint, has arisen numerous apprehensions - the biggest of which is his dip in consistency. Kohli has played non-stop cricket with unparalleled uniformity over the last two years, all of which looks at stake now ahead of the 2019 World Cup.
Technology has seen a huge boom in the last few years with internet and broadcasting reaching into the darkest nooks and corners of the world, and making sports an enormous source of entertainment for people. It has consequently led to the demand for more number of matches every year across all the sports with athletes requiring an insane amount of fitness to remain at the top of their game.
Whether it be cricket, basketball or even badminton, players have been heard complaining about how the congested schedule leaves them very little time for recovery. The Board of Control for Cricket in India, being the richest cricket board in the world and having a vast ocean of viewership at its disposal, quite understandably wanted to cash in on the fan-following. However, it eventually led to a large hue and cry by the players and coaches concerning the cramped schedule last season.
After the Men in Blue clearly toiled past the end of the 2017-18 season, FTP’s 2018-19 schedule has now given breathing space to the players. Though India would still play a whopping 63 international games in the 2018-19 season, which include 30 ODIs, 12 Tests, and 21 T20Is in total, the players would be seeing rest time and recovery periods ahead of the much-awaited World Cup in 2019.
When AB de Villiers, widely considered as one of the fittest players in the international cricket, stated tiredness as one of his main reasons for retirement, many were taken aback. And Kohli’s injury, coming a day after it, has only multiplied the concern among fans. The struggle of a burnt out Kohli was clearly seen in Royal Challengers Bangalore’s IPL this season. Though given the run machine that he is, Kohli still managed to garner 530 runs, his body language was clearly giving the signs and the fact was his neck injury occurred in an IPL game against Sunrisers Hyderabad wasn’t surprising either.
Indian cricket can be divided into two parts - post-2008 era and pre-2008 era. According to an article in Scroll, where they projected stats from Cricket Archive taking the number of matches played in the years before and after 2008, among Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni and de Villers, Kohli has been relentless. While an outgoing Tendulkar was obviously cherry picking his games, blooming Dhoni and de Villiers, too, didn’t match Kohli’s figures. The Indian skipper has been consistently clocking over 50 games a year and his slight niggle here and there have never been able to stop him.
This is where Kohli comes as a source of a worry. Unlike de Villiers, who never looked like chasing figures and records in his territory or even worry enough about glory, as his retirement just one year ahead of World Cup evidently showed us, Kohli has embarked on a path of greatness. At a stage when de Villiers decided to retire, Kohli would most probably try to come up with an even more grinding routine to be at the top of his game, regardless of the consequences.
It would be terrible for Kohli, one of the greatest to have ever graced the game, to hang up his boots as abruptly and unceremoniously as de Villiers. Hence, the onus is very much upon BCCI to keep Kohli as safe as possible from the throes of age and burnout.
Fortunately, India’s biggest curse in this scenario could also be their biggest boon, IPL. India could react to it proactively rather than waiting for the time to come and hope Kohli’s natural body grows unnatural endurance, thanks to the large pool of talents the domestic talent coming up from the cash-rich tournament every year. Over the past 10 seasons in the IPL, local talents have pushed fringe overseas players to the bench with their displays.
Domestic tournaments like Ranji Trophy, Duleep Trophy, Deodhar Trophy, Vijay Hazare Trophy, and Irani Trophy have stopped becoming a fodder for national team selection now. IPL has become a platform for window shopping for the national selectors and it has worked evidently well in India’s favor. The Indian side that will take on Afghanistan later this month include players like Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, Hardik Pandya, and Shardul Thakur, who have mostly been products of the IPL. Though they did well in the first-class cricket, it was IPL that primarily brought them to the fore.
Though BCCI has started rotating the squad for all three formats of the game, their workload concerns with crucial players like Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah, and Hardik Pandya have been reason enough to do it more often. BCCI had already started monitoring the workload management of its top 50 players, which had all centrally contracted players, during IPL and the day shouldn’t be far behind when matches would be divided into important and unimportant for Kohli.
Resting players have had varied consequences in different sports like basketball and football, where the crowd and the board have shown their disregard in the absence of star players. However, cricket in India enjoys a huge advantage over them as the crowd here won’t be fuming over Kohli’s absence, if an Ajinkya Rahane, or Dinesh Karthik, or Rohit Sharma takes the side to victory.
With the increasing demand in modern day cricket, BCCI would now have to use its meticulous structure that has been placed perfectly over years, which connects the grassroots to the international platform. Kohli deserves to retire from cricket as the game’s all-time great and it would majorly rely on the board to help him bow out in that manner.