The paradox of the Indian Premier League is quite a big one. A country like England, whose growth in the white-ball formats of the tournaments were aligned only after its players flocked to the IPL, it is a plain irony that the Indians have stayed way too off despite the youngsters’ belligerence.
One can’t surely point fingers at one reason but the biggest derivation seen from the naked eye is the selection in wrong formats. For example, a fantastic red-ball player like Mohammed Siraj has become a subject of troll on social media because he concedes runs in T20s. Umesh Yadav’s brilliance in Test cricket at home is masked by his IPL performances, as does Jaydev Unadkat and his superior skills on display in the Ranji Trophy go unnoticed when the IPL comes calling. Shubman Gill is seen as a prospect to replace Shikhar Dhawan in T20Is although he should be Mayank Agarwal’s partner in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy later this year.
The same goes to Suryakumar Yadav, an excellent prospect in the 20-over format has been ignored in favour of Shreyas Iyer, who is definitely a great batsman in 50-overs cricket. It is a paradox that has often defined Indian cricket, which despite being home to the biggest T20 competition in the world, hasn’t been able to win a single global trophy in the format since the tournament’s inception. The headline act has never been questioned either but you surely can notice the pattern that has engulfed them to the current extent.
It is the question that must have befuddled a lot of T20 analysts and a lot of freelance cricketers alike, but none more than the last four days of T20 action when Virat Kohli put up in two varied displays consecutive matches. An eccentric and archetypical Virat Kohli innings against Chennai Super Kings brought a facet of T20 batting that is often undervalued but his struggling-to-caress unbeaten 33 against Kolkata Knight Riders showed why six-hitting and higher strike rate earlier in the innings does help most of the time. One can attribute his remarkable consistency to cut him some slack, but the fact is the grammar of the format made it a difficult perspective to adhere to.
In the Super Kings game, Kohli started slow, almost run-a-ball as he always does, but then accelerated his game in such a fashion that left many gasping for breath, leave alone CSK's fielders. Despite the sweltering heat of Dubai taking a daunting toll on one’s fitness level, Kohli remained unfazed and proved why singles and doubles are still an entity that makes the shortest format a compelling watch. The game had a surface bearing to one of the finest exhibitions of modern-day batting he had shown in 2016 - in the World T20 against Australia - and this time, with a bit of added theatre. Everyone appreciated it and then some people also saw it as a revenge masterclass from “King Kohli”.
Come Monday, in the KKR game, Kohli started with a similar template, scoring 11 off 14 when Aaron Finch was dismissed. With AB de Villiers in, it didn’t undergo any change, with the RCB skipper subsequently moving to 21 off 22. This is a process that might yield success once in a while, but it doesn’t pay off regularly and when he is dismissed at the backend, leaving the teams in a state of flux from which it is not easy to recover from. That is the kind of positive-negative ratio balance one has to endure being an anchor where the true-risk factor sky-rocketed when you least imagined.
The last two RCB games epitomised that more than anything but honestly, that doesn’t mean Kohli is a problem. He is a great assessor of risk, can easily be called as the best in the world, something we saw in Hyderabad late last year when Kohli floundered the Caribbean line-up for a well-crafted 94. He backed that up with an unbeaten 70 in Mumbai but in the next six matches against Sri Lanka and New Zealand, he couldn't sustain that level, which is the problem.
If you level everything up and put them in a box to judge, it is clear that his impact is far lesser than someone like AB de Villiers, Chris Gayle, Rohit Sharma or Andre Russell who can change the course of the game without putting the side at risk thanks to their approach. When they shine, the teams win more often than they lose and the anchor’s role is forgotten. Cue yesterday - AB de Villiers’ freakish innings got everyone talking and Kohli’s innings became a sideshow and no one noticed how big a problem it would have been had the Saffer was dismissed at that point in time. But in the most recent Delhi Capitals-Mumbai Indians encounter, Shikhar Dhawan’s frailties were exposed because Delhi lost the match and Dhawan was trolled on social media left, right and centre.
In that parlance, Virat Kohli gives a singular sense of ecstasy and disturbance in two contrasting situations like when he scores a truck-load of runs and when he fails to get going. The first is a life lesson in facing the challenges and growing together while the second is the ultimate sarcopenia situation. However, the pain and pleasure of those two states have made the legend of Virat Kohli as we know it and that is something we will never let go of, will we?