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Ahead of T20 World Cup, onus on Virat Kohli to display attacking template at RCB

When he returns to action in IPL after a personal break, it will be interesting to see whether he opens for RCB or bats at No.3

In Tests and ODIs, Virat Kohli is one of the first men in India’s team sheet. So why is it that even after 117 T20I and 237 IPL appearances, the star batter has been unable to settle the debate around his scoring tempo in the shortest format?

Virat Kohli will return to competitive action in IPL 2024(IPL)

The format has transformed hugely since India’s first-ever T20I, where they took 19.5 overs to achieve a target of 127 against South Africa. That was 2006. Today, such contests are rare unless the pitch is unfavourable for strokeplay. Kohli has been a large part of India’s T20 ride, in what even he would admit is one format he hasn’t mastered yet.

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Onto the big issue then. It is learnt that Kohli remains a part of India’s scheme of things for the T20 World Cup, which begins less than a week after the IPL final. The decision was taken when both Kohli and captain Rohit Sharma were picked after a year’s absence in India’s last three-match T20I series against Afghanistan in January.

Kohli missed the first match, scored a brisk 29 in the second and then got out playing an attacking shot for 0 in the third. More of the same in terms of intent is expected of him in the IPL if you ask people in the know. It’s not a question of how many runs Kohli scores but how he goes about scoring them. Rohit has embraced an attacking batting template for two years now, with mixed results. Kohli has only begun to do it now. He must not stop.

In the Indore T20I against Afghanistan, Kohli slapped Mujeeb Ur Rahman to the deep cover boundary and then to deep midwicket. Mujeeb and spinners of his ilk had arrested Kohli’s scoring rate previously. In this case, he didn’t allow the spinner to settle. He lasted only 16 balls that day. But apart from his own strike rate (181.25), even his team’s run-rate shot up from 6 to 12 runs per over during his stay at the crease as he matched Yashasvi Jaiswal shot for shot. In the next match, where India were chasing 213, Kohli couldn’t do any damage but came out with the right intent.

Missing intent

This intent has been missing in Kohli’s T20 play over the years. In the same 2022 T20 World Cup in Australia where Kohli played an all-time great innings of 82* (53b) against Pakistan, he looked a misfit in the semi-final against England with a 40-ball 50.

Having walked in to bat at No.3 early in India’s innings, India were still going at a run-rate of only 7.5 by the time he got out in the 18th over. England, in response, finished the job in 16 overs at a rapid rate of 10.6 runs per over.

Kohli’s start was not too dissimilar against Pakistan. But the match scenario allowed him to grow into the innings. Having come in at 7/1, India soon found themselves 31/4 while chasing 160. The cluster of wickets gave Kohli a bit of time to anchor the chase, and he hit fifth gear in the final three overs, playing one of the most astonishing knocks under pressure that you will see in the T20 World Cup. India need his presence in the World Cup for this big-match temperament. But they no longer want him to anchor, except for these tough situations.

While Kohli will occupy the No.3 slot if included, India’s likely T20 World Cup eleven will have Rohit and Jaiswal opening and Suryakumar Yadav and Hardik Pandya to follow. Add the young Rinku Singh to the mix as the finisher at No.6.

“I would put people like Kohli, Root in the sort of class where they are able to flex and be very fluid in the type of game they can play,” seasoned T20 coach Andy Flower told HT last month. “They are not as powerful as some of the other players, but you want balance in your side with both power and skill. There is definitely a move towards more power, and you will see less and less of the anchor-type player. But there is still a significant role they can play.”

Flower will be Kohli’s head coach at Royal Challengers Bangalore in this year’s IPL. When Kohli returns after two months from a personal break, a key decision Flower must take is where his franchise’s most recognisable face should bat. Kohli generally opens the batting for RCB.

“Ideally, we would like most of the players to bat in those positions in the IPL for which they are in contention at the World Cup,” a BCCI official said.

Whether Kohli bats in the Powerplay or the middle overs, RCB, like India, would want the former captain to bat the modern way. “One thing about recent cricket history is that the game is moving forward. And players of that sort of ability can flex and they are flexing. We are seeing it happen right in front of our very eyes,” Flower said of Kohli.

Kohli is yet to join the RCB camp, although the team management is confident he will play in the opening game at home against Punjab Kings on March 23.


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