Cricket is a great leveller and no one has ever escaped the ups and downs of this gentlemanly but cruel game! It was just a few months back that Virat Kohli was the darling of the cricket fraternity. Fans all around the world were applauding his intensity on the field. Even though he failed to score centuries over the past two years or so, no one was booing him on the field. Neither the cricket board (BCCI) nor the selection committee dared to stand up to him and deny him anything that he wanted in the selection or team matters.
Things suddenly took a U-turn in January when he was unceremoniously removed from the Test captaincy. Many termed this development as a “blessing in disguise” for India’s most admired cricketer of the present era and expected his bat to speak loudly for him.
But then, cricket is called a “game of glorious uncertainties”. This proved true of Virat. A batsman, who smashed 36 international centuries between 2016 and 2019, has now bagged two successive golden ducks in the ongoing Indian Premier League’s 15th edition.
From being a “Prince Charming” on the cricket field, Virat is now being booed by the same cricket fans. The batsman, who notched up four centuries in the IPL 2016 season with a total of 973 runs, has now gone 100 matches without a century in 37 Tests, 21 ODIs, 25 T20Is and 37 IPL matches.
Once regarded as a “run machine”, Virat is looking vulnerable outside the off-stump. This has taken a toll on his overall approach to the game. His hunger for runs, even his intensity on the ground has been missing ever since he has lost the leadership role in all formats.
Going by Virat’s own words a few years back that “he would leave cricket when his zeal for the game is over”, many have started questioning whether he needs to take a break from competitive cricket or even think about quitting it altogether.
If former India chief selector Dilip Vengsarkar, who first picked him for India after his heroics in Under-19, feels that “it’s the tiredness that is taking a toll on him”, then former England skipper Kevin Pietersen wants him to “chill”.
Vengsarkar feels that “the harder he tries, the tougher it gets”. Pietersen believes that “Virat needs a six-month break”.
The wait is getting longer
Looking back, Virat’s last international 100 was recorded in November 2019.
And when Covid-19 struck the world of cricket three months later, Virat and all the other players in the world witnessed the cancellation of many important tournaments and tours. Virat, during all this while, managed to hit headlines in the name of spending time with his family.
In fact, this was the first time this Delhi boy had gotten time off from cricket since his entry into the big league in 2008. The wait finally ended for him in September 2020, but nothing went according to his plans. He failed not just to get that much-needed three-figure mark, he even failed to win the coveted World Test Championship final against New Zealand.
In his desperation for a big knock, he was exposing himself outside off-stump. Virat’s old tendency of edging the ball outside surfaced again, and he only managed to score 218 runs at a poor average of just above 30 in the seven outings this time around. It was suggested that he reduce his workload in order to concentrate on his batting.
Like every other time, while he was enjoying uninterrupted success, Virat’s eagerness to announce he’s quitting the T20I captaincy just before the T20 World Cup in the UAE ended up as a disaster. The BCCI was outraged that Virat had not consulted it before taking such a major step, but Virat, being Virat, continued to ignore the warning signs.
The world’s most powerful cricket board struck back, this time with a vengeance, by removing India’s most successful captain of all time from the One-day captaincy. The saga didn’t end there, as Virat was also replaced as Test skipper following a 1-2 defeat in the series against South Africa.
It is hardly a secret to anyone that the 33-year-old wanted to continue as Test skipper and he made this clear while relinquishing the T20I leadership role in September 2021. But things were now beyond his control. It’s hardly a guess that those decisions have not gone down well with the former India skipper, who has only managed to score 119 runs in his first eight games of the IPL season.
In fact, the golden duck that he got against SunRisers Hyderabad the other night was nothing short of heartbreak for all his fans who have never seen their hero walking back to the pavilion with his head down in dismay.
Can he be dropped?
This was supposed to be Virat’s revenge time as he had been playing without the burden of captaincy for his IPL outfit, Royal Challengers Bangalore, ever since he was named skipper in 2013.
Rather, it turned out to be the worst so far. And the debate has now started on “whether he can be dropped from the playing eleven for the first time in the last decade”.
And if you listen to Rawalpindi Express from Pakistan, Shoaib Akhtar, the answer could well be disturbing for Virat fans. Known for speaking his mind freely, Akhtar, however, believes that “chances of dropping Virat are as remote as India agreeing to play Pakistan in bilateral cricket”.
However, he cautioned that “since the IPL franchise model is performance-based, no one will be spared, not even Virat Kohli”.
“Even he can be dropped if he does not perform,” the former speedster wrote in his column.
Ravi Shastri, who is considered to be close to Virat, minced no words while calling for a break for his favourite pupil. “Virat Kohli is overcooked. If anyone needs a break, it’s him. He needs a break because he has got six-seven years of cricket left in him and you don’t want to lose that with a fried brain”.
Virat is not the only one struggling with form. His successor, Rohit Sharma, is facing the same dilemma after losing eight straight games this season. While Virat fell for his first golden duck against Lucknow Super Giants, Rohit departed for a two-ball duck in his side’s three-wicket loss to Chennai Super Kings on April 21.
The main difference, however, between the two right now is that Rohit has just taken over the reins of Indian cricket and he has the full backing of the BCCI. Moreover, last year’s champion Mumbai is on the brink of an early elimination from the IPL this year, and Rohit can afford to miss the remaining matches in order to regain his lost confidence.
The main challenge will be for Virat, who has developed strong feelings for and against the current set of Indian cricket administrators. Hence, it would be advisable to leave him alone for now. He should have the choice to introspect and decide what’s best for him!
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