Kohli will step down from IPL captaincy at the end of this year’s tournament, and Monday’s game could well be his last as the Bangalore-based franchise’s skipper, after nine years in charge.
On the face of it, this is an IPL Eliminator, between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Kolkata Knight Riders in Sharjah. But from RCB captain Virat Kohli’s perspective, this game probably presents a bigger picture.
Kohli will step down from IPL captaincy at the end of this year’s tournament, and Monday’s game could well be his last as the Bangalore-based franchise’s skipper, after nine years in charge. The decision announced during the middle of the tournament eases some of the pressure on captain Kohli, for it takes away the debaters’ privilege to demand his removal, if he fails again to win the title. Still, another trophy-less season would see critics sharpen their knives, pointing towards an empty cabinet.
Last year, after RCB lost to Sunrisers Hyderabad in the Eliminator, former India batsman and KKR’s two-time title-winning captain Gautam Gambhir had raised the accountability issue. Another Eliminator exit and the RCB skipper might have to face more tough questions, notwithstanding his decision to quit captaincy.
The T20 World Cup is approaching, which is Kohli’s final assignment as India’s T20 captain as well. Obviously, he wouldn’t like to carry any negative vibes into such an important tournament. As a batsman also, he hasn’t played a match-winning knock even in white-ball cricket for quite a substantial period now.
Kohli has scored 366 runs in 14 games this IPL, including three half-centuries. By his lofty standards, though, this feels a little underwhelming. For close to two years now, he hasn’t scored a limited-overs century. Add to that the latest issue of his head falling over and going outside the line of the ball, while playing across the line on the leg-side. Getting out leg-before to Bhuvneshwar Kumar in that manner only a few days back is still fresh in fans’ memory.
Certain technical issues can creep in when a cricketer plays for a long period and Kohli, the master batsman, doesn’t need any coach’s help to sort it out. Such issues are addressed during the off-season, which nowadays is virtually non-existent. The second phase of the IPL in UAE came on the heels of a Test series in England and there’s barely any gap between the T20 league and the T20 World Cup. India haven’t won an ICC trophy since 2013 and to break the drought, Kohli needs to be in top form in the showpiece event.
Rohit Sharma not having a good IPL increases Kohli’s responsibility going into the T20 World Cup. Both are big tournament players and the global competition would be played with a different intensity. Still, big runs, especially against an excellent KKR bowling attack, at the business end of the IPL would be a serious confidence-boost for Kohli.
The Pakistan factor
That India’s first match in the T20 World Cup is against Pakistan makes things even more interesting. Forget the gulf between the two teams, hype-building has already started on the other side of the border. “One strong investor told me that a blank cheque is ready for the PCB if Pakistan beats India in the upcoming T20 World Cup,” Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ramiz Raja recently told his country’s Senate Standing Committee.
Kohli speaks a lot about ‘head space’ and getting it right would be important before India’s T20 World Cup opener. As for the Eliminator, his immediate aim could be a more fruitful Powerplay, bowling-wise.
RCB’s average Powerplay economy rate this term is 8.38, with 11 wickets during the first six overs compared to KKR’s 17. Kohli, at times, has held back Yuzvendra Chahal against left-handers. It would be interesting to see if he uses the leg-spinner early in the Eliminator, against KKR’s in-form left-handed opening batsman Venkatesh Iyer.
Despite not-so-good Powerplay stats, RCB’s bowling performance in the middle overs and at the death has been excellent. But KKR’s heavy artillery – Andre Russell is likely to be fit – might not allow their opponents a chance to rally.
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