ICC Cricket World Cup 2019: Big cup game eludes Kohli again

Omkar Paranjape
Friday, 12 July 2019

Greatest cricketer of this era ponders as the Cup slips away after dreadful Old Trafford outing

BIRMINGHAM: 9-1-1. not an emergency, but Virat Kohli’s World Cup semi-final scores!

There’s no doubting Indian skipper Virat Kohli is one of the greatest cricketers of his generation.

In fact, when the 30-year-old finally decides to hang up his bat, he may well be regarded as one of the greatest cricketers of all time.

The only problem is that as of right now, for 1.34 billion Indians, that’s not how they’re feeling...

India were bundled out of the 2019 Cricket World Cup on Wednesday at the semi-final stage, losing by 18 runs to New Zealand at Old Trafford.

Kohli’s contribution to India’s scorecard? A single off six balls before he was trapped lbw by left-arm bowler Trent Boult. It’s not the first time Kohli has failed when his country has needed him most.

At the previous World Cup in 2015 in Australia - also in the semi-finals (at the Sydney Cricket Ground) - Kohli also scored a single, this time off 13 balls before he top-edged a Mitchell Johnson delivery to wicketkeeper Brad Hadden as India would go on to lose by 95 runs.

In the semi-finals of World Cup prior to that in 2011 in Chandigarh, Kohli, as a 22-year-old, scored nine runs off 21 balls before he was caught at backward-point by Umar Akmal off the bowling of Wahab Riaz.

Thankfully for India, that failure didn’t prove as costly as India beat Pakistan by 29 runs and would go on to beat Sri Lanka by six wickets in the final. For the record, Kohli contributed 35 runs to India’s successful run chase that day.

Despite his playoff failings, Kohli’s current ODI stats make for impressive reading - and are therefore doubly frustrating for his legion of fans.

In 236 matches he’s scored 11 286 runs at an average of 59.40 with 41 centuries and 54 half-centuries.

Virat Kohli, who wore a dejected look while walking back to the pavilion after being dismissed by Trent Boult early on in the Indian innings, walked out of the dressing room and had a word with head coach Ravi Shastri in a fit of rage soon after Rishabh Pant had thrown his wicket away.

Kohli walked straight to Shastri who was sitting in the balcony and had a word with him even as television cameras panned towards the India captain-coach duo. Kohli was seen having a brief chat with Shastri before heading back to the dressing room.

Ravi Shastri took over as coach in 2017 after Anil Kumble stepped down because of a rift with Virat Kohli. Shastri had enough time to plug the hole in that middle-order and call the shots. What were his inputs on the several middle-order options India tried out?

What was Shastri’s role in deciding MS Dhoni’s batting order? What was Shastri’s role in helping batsmen tackle with overcast conditions which aided swing? What has so far been Ravi Shastri’s role in the Indian team?

Ravi Shastri was team director in 2015 when India stormed into the World Cup semi-finals and lost to Australia. He was the popular choice after Kumble resigned in 2017. Both captain and coach have often spoken openly of their admiration for each other. Yet, there were gaps in team selection and tactics.

“When your captain is out on the field, you expect your vice-captain, you expect your coach. But you have got to be proactive,” Sourav Ganguly said during his commentary stint when asked if Shastri would be empowered to change the batting order while the captain was out in the middle.

Yuvraj Singh. Manish Pandey. Ajinkya Rahane. Suresh Raina. Ambati Rayudu. Shreyas Iyer. All these batsmen were tried and dropped as India sought to address their middle-order woes in the lead-up to the 2019 Cricket World Cup.

For the last 3 years, India had dominated teams the world over. Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli were on fire. India’s top 3 batsmen turned into an unstoppable force.

And in Jasprit Bumrah, they found a pacer who would go on to become the world’s best in ODIs. And along the way, they found two wrist-spinners who would bamboozle batsmen with their guile and variations. But one major problem kept Indian cricket on tenterhooks.

The middle-order. Who would bat at No.4? Who would bat at No.5? Who would finish games for India? Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina were formidable in their prime but India soon realised they were no more the players they once were.

Virat Kohli believed Rahane could be a good option in England but surprisingly, he did not even get a look-in after the South Africa tour in early 2018.

Months before the World Cup, the Indian team management decided Vijay Shankar could be a great asset in the middle-order. Called in as a like-for-like replacement for Hardik Pandya who was banned for his controversial comments on Koffee with Karan, Shankar was touted as a viable middle-order batsman because he could also offer a few overs of medium pace.

All said and done, perhaps it’s easier to catch the small fish, but the big ones need to stand up and be counted.

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