Virat Kohli: Cricketer of the Year, Shuffler of Players


Virat Kohli: Cricketer of the Year, Shuffler of Players

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

The list of Virat Kohli’s recent achievements sounds just like a character title out of Game of Thrones. Cricketer of the Year, Captain of Test and ODI Teams, Master of Sledging, Bollywood’s Favourite Daamad, Shuffler of Players…

At this point, the overwhelming love that India feels for Virat Kohli could only be rivalled by the love we feel for our mothers. After all, the man is like a machine, churning out runs the way Oppo and Vivo churn out advertising boards across the hinterland. I would give up my entire comic book collection to watch Kohli spearhead a run chase. To see Kohli complete a century and leap in the air in celebration like an ISRO satellite, the human equivalent of a can of RedBull, gives my heart a boner.

Declaring Kohli the Cricketer of the Year is like picking Bisleri when buying packaged drinking water. He is perhaps one of the greatest batsmen to have ever taken the field, an enigma of the shorter formats… and team selection.

While his craft and skill with the bat is unparalleled, when it comes to his captaincy in the longer format, I’m not wholly convinced. If some press conferences post-defeat are anything to go by, he doesn’t like answering difficult questions. The aggression from the field spills over into the press room. And that’s a sight that inevitably follows a Test series overseas.

Nothing in this world is certain, except death, taxes, and India losing an overseas Test series after raising expectations and giving fans a false sense of belief that maybe, this time, it won’t be like the Nightmare on Elm Street. We have never won a Test series in South Africa since their first tour in 1992, but we started 2018 with hope. But after our performance in the first Test, it seems like getting a release date for Padmaavat is easier than beating South Africa on their turf. All that remains, are “ifs” and “buts”.

What if India had decided to pick Ajinkya Rahane ahead of Rohit Sharma? What if Kohli had retained Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the team? What if Pujara wasn’t run out in both the innings? What if Parthiv Patel had held on to all the catches that he dropped? What if Mahatma Gandhi could resurrect and teach the team how to do well in South African conditions? What if instead of cricket, I was addicted to something way less harmful, like LSD?

As heartbroken as I am, with another Indian disappointment overseas, I hope Kohli finds the right combination and India wins at least one Test match against either South Africa, England, Australia or New Zealand on their turf. Or else, can the Karni Sena put their skills to use and stop the screening of India’s foreign matches because fans all over the country are tired of seeing India lose and think, “what if?”

In the days ahead, there will be a lot of discussion on what India could have done differently to win and how Pujara could’ve batted differently or the line Ishant Sharma should have bowled. Everyone from the nearest paanwala to the pundit to this writer, has an opinion on team selection and is haunted by what the outcome might have been if Kohli had picked Rahane over Rohit.

When it comes to making choices, India has always been a tricky tale of ifs and buts – whether it is selection on the cricket field or candidates in the political arena.

Rohit might be a legend in ODIs, but on foreign pitches against quality pace bowling, he has been as effective as an umbrella in a tornado. Playing him against South Africa based on his ODI form might not have been the wisest decision. Rahane might not possess Rohit’s swagger and flamboyance, but he has proved his mettle on foreign pitches in the past and has got the job done in challenging conditions. So what explains the vice captain’s absence from the Test squad?

When it comes to making choices, India has always been a tricky tale of ifs and buts – whether it is selection on the cricket field or candidates in the political arena. Since taking over the reins as the Test captain from MS Dhoni in 2014, Kohli has never fielded the same XI twice in any of the 34 matches. Players frequently walk in and out of the team as if it were a Mumbai local. You never change a winning team, they say, but when it comes to Indian cricket, traditional wisdom goes for a toss.

If we had Bhuvi in the team, could things have been different? Bhuvneshwar Kumar bowled splendidly, took six wickets and contributed significantly with the bat in Newlands. For this achievement, he was dropped from the side. Karun Nair was also dropped recently after scoring a triple hundred. It’s basically the opposite of Rahul Gandhi’s political career, where he gets promoted for poor performances. Should selection have been favoured taking form into consideration, or the conditions? Unfortunately, there was no consistency on that front either.

Kohli and the management keep juggling between Dhawan-Rahul, Rohit-Rahane, Saha-Parthiv, and Bhuvneshwar-Ishant as if they are running a circus and not a team. It is difficult for a team to settle down and players to focus on their game when they know they have a sword constantly dangling over their necks.

A phenomenal batsman in all formats of the game, Kohli’s decision-making and logic as a captain often leaves a lot to be desired. I know none of these questions would come to pass if India had continued to win despite Kohli’s caprice. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves; it’s still early days and if there’s one trait we’ve seen and loved through every aspect of his game, it is his ability to adapt to various situations.

Let the “Best 11” win.

With inputs from Hardik Rajgor