“With great skill comes great responsibility, and with inane talent comes more expectations. Yes, it is time the others stood up to perform but for as long as another stalwart is not in our midst, the hopes will forever remain pinned on Kohli”
As a wicket falls and as the heart stoops in gloom, the cries for the calming presence of Virat Kohli at the crease gain momentum. It yearns for the effervescent and enigmatic cricketer who has made it a habit of walking up to face the toughest of challenges with big burly eyes that sets the fiercest of bowlers back. The vivacious player who revels in tough chases; the passionate being, who instead of being bogged down when the situation threatens to go beyond grasp, adorns the role of Zeus to single-handedly fix the mess that an inconsistent team has poured out before him.
In the last four years, the Indian skipper has been thrown into the midst of erratic players but he has hardly allowed their form to hamper his growth. Amassing 3981 runs at a stunning average of 61.24, Kohli has been the backbone of the Indian batting team but his tendency to slip under pressure in precarious situations in Tests is in stark contrast to his finishing skills in the shorter formats. In losses, Kohli has smashed six hundreds and three fifties in the interim and while these numbers are jaw-dropping, he has also failed to stay and complete the match on four distinct occasions when the team was solely rallying around the maverick.
New Zealand vs India: 1st Test, Auckland, 2014
Playing on a seam-friendly typical Kiwi wicket, the home side jostled away the early setback when they were reduced to 30 for 3, scoring a massive 503 runs in their first innings. In reply, the Indians – not unexpectedly – failed to get close and managed just 202 runs. After shooting out the Kiwis for 105 in their second innings, the Indians had a stiff target to chase down. 407 runs had never been chased down in the land and the odds were stacked highly against them. However, a fighting 116 from Shikhar Dhawan who was ably supported by Kohli, who fought his way to a 102 ball 67, ensured that the target was within reach. But once the latter was sent packing, the match was all but over as the pitch was anything but easy to play on. Eventually, India lost by a mere 40 runs with a memorable away win not meant to be theirs.
Australia vs India: 1st Test, Adelaide, 2014
The very first game where Kohli was donning the leadership that could have ended on a brighter note had the player kept his calm near the end of his innings. Chasing 364 runs for an improbable victory, the Indians got off to a flying start once Murali Vijay had set the foundation with a composed 99. It was Kohli who took the initiative of overhauling the target and his counter-attacking knock of 141 in just 175 balls laid the momentum, which led to faint hopes of an Indian win.
However, other than Kohli no other batsman could live up to the aggressive approach and at 304 for 6, it was solely on the then stand-in skipper’s shoulders to script a win for the ages. However, despite pitching in with all the efforts, he lost focus for just a wee bit and was dismissed with India needing only 60 runs more. His dismissal sparked off a collapse and 11 runs later, India had perished but not before giving off magnificent aspirations.
England vs India: 1st Test, Birmingham, 2018
The result of the Test series could have been vastly different if Kohli, who had effectively silenced all his critics in the first innings with a mammoth 149, stayed on at the crease for just a little while longer. Chasing 194 runs to win the match, it was only the captain who looked at ease throughout the innings as the likes of KL Rahul, Vijay, Ajinkya Rahane and Dhawan floundered one after the other in quick succession.
After finding considerable support from Hardik Pandya, it was imperative that Kohli held his side of the crease up and play calmly once he got to his 50. However, a slight error when India needed just 52 runs ended the chances and soon after, England wrapped up India’s tail, winning the game by 31 runs.
England vs India: 4th Test, Southampton, 2018
Yes, the Indian team has been rallying around Kohli in the ongoing series and this was evident once again in the fourth Test match where Kohli’s wicket started the downfall. After India was struggling at 22 for 3 chasing 245 runs for a win, Kohli and Rahane stitched together a 101-run partnership to make the chase easier. The target was still distant but once the leader was set at the crease, all it required was a calm approach with Rahane, who too looked quite at ease. However, Kohli faced a peach of a ball that spun almost 10 degrees from Moeen Ali, which once again started the Great Indian Collapse. With Kohli’s dismissal, India’s hopes were doused as well.
Yes, it could be termed unfair to expect Captain Chiku to keep bailing India out time and again as his brilliant tons and double hundreds over the last few years have been unparalleled in terms of their sheer class. Cricket is a team game, and it can be deemed unfair to pass the blame of India’s so-near-yet-so-far losses upon a player who has been performing consistently over the last few years.
But this is where the genius’ responsibility lies. It is no secret that the Rahuls and the Dhawans are home-track bullies with convincing performances away from home being sporadic and rare. Cheteshwar Pujara fares well but he is more a follower than a leader. Rahane with an impeccable away record (well, before this year) too is not seen as a match-winner and if he finds his momentum, he needs a senior pro to guide him till the end. India’s lower middle-order is inexperienced with the keeper not being a reliable batsman over the years and Pandya is still fitting into his role. The tail has hardly wagged for India in Tests, much to the frustration of the fans who time and again watch in despair as the opponent’s tail stays on to at least add 50-60 runs match after match.
Kohli’s role thus is not only to score runs by the heap but also to stay put and enable the cricketers around him to play their natural game. His presence gives off a queer assurance; a warranty that a win can be achieved under all circumstances.
But when he lunges back to the dressing room, a sense of panic engulfs the environment – the teammates give in to harakiri and the rivals exult in joy. A renewed sense of energy sweeps over the stadium and as an Indian player walks out and then walks back in quick succession, the cameras pan out towards Kohli – his eyes narrating the angst and the deep lines across his face pondering over the what ifs. What if he had stayed on till the end? What if he had scored a run? A few more runs. Would his presence have helped India win?
But the cricketing circuit is not an arena for hypothetical questions. Rather, it only delves into the results and the match-winners and unfortunately, despite Kohli’s blitzkrieg over the last few years, the Indian still has a long way to go before he can be looked upon as a player who grinds it out, faces the hurdles stays unbeaten and guides Team India home (he has remained unbeaten in only 4 innings when India has won chasing last). With great skill comes great responsibility, and with inane talent comes more expectations. Yes, it is time the others stood up to perform but for as long as another stalwart is not in our midst, the hopes will forever remain pinned on Kohli.