Team India succumbed rather tamely in the World Test Championship (WTC) final against New Zealand in Southampton. Despite two full days being lost to rain in the Test, India still could not save the match. One of the reasons behind India’s loss was the failure of their skipper Virat Kohli in yet another prominent ICC encounter. He looked good during his 44 in the first innings, but could not carry on to register a bigger score. In the second innings too, Kohli fell cheaply, managing only 13. In contrast, his opposite number Kane Williamson contributed 49 and 52 not out.
This is not the first time Kohli has failed to deliver in crunch ICC matches. In fact, he has been unsuccessful in leading from the front every time India had made it to the knockouts before in ICC tournaments. Take the case of the 2017 Champions Trophy final. India needed a big knock from him in a massive chase of 339. However, he was back in the hut for 5 off 9 balls caught off Mohammad Amir’s bowling. Something similar transpired in the 2019 World Cup semi-final against the Kiwis. He was trapped lbw by Trent Boult for 1. Although Kohli scored 44 in the first innings in Southampton, his overall effort will still count as a failure.
Even when he was not leading India, Kohli failed to come up with the goods in the 2015 World Cup semi-final against Australia in Sydney. Again, India were chasing a tough 329 for victory. By 2015, Kohli was the superstar in the Indian batting unit. However, 1 off 13 was all he managed as he top-edged a pull from Mitchell Johnson straight up in the air. India, eventually, folded up for 233. In the same knockout clash, Steven Smith, with whom Virat Kohli is often compared, hammered a serene hundred. The difference in Kohli’s performance on the big stage has been quite prominent since.
Virat’s failure in ICC knockouts a mental block?
Not for a moment can one question Kohli’s talent, ability and commitment. Without these three qualities, he wouldn’t have achieved what he has in international cricket. At the same time, his abysmal record in must-win ICC clashes also cannot be brushed under the carpet. Great cricketers wait for the big occasion to prove their mettle. Viv Richards, Aravindra de Silva, Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting, MS Dhoni, Ben Stokes – all of these names have come up with match-winning performances in World Cup finals. As for Kohli, he has just not looked the part in the ICC knockout games.
One can only conclude then that there is definitely something wrong with the mental aspect of the Indian captain’s game in these ‘big’ matches. If we rewind to his dismissal in the 2017 Champions Trophy against Pakistan, Kohli had a lucky reprieve when he was dropped early in his innings off Amir. But, instead of making the bowler and Pakistan pay, Kohli was out very next ball, playing a nothing shot. The Indian captain tried to nervously flick one onto the leg side, but only managed to balloon a simple catch off a leading edge.
Coming to the 2019 World Cup semi-final, he was again out to a left-armer, Trent Boult, rapped him in front of the stumps trying to play across the line. If we compare the two dismissals, Kohli’s was fidgety and looked uncomfortable during his short stay in the middle in both cases, which is not how things are with him otherwise.
Whether he takes too much pressure in ICC knockout clashes or tries too hard to perform is something that Kohli needs to seriously ponder upon. While his overall numbers in international cricket are sensational, his constant inability to stand up to the challenge in crunch encounters sticks out like a sore thumb. The WTC final was a great opportunity for Kohli to change the script. But, after providing a flicker of hope, he went down the wrong path yet again.