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No hidden feelings in Virat Kohli’s pre-match interaction with Kevin Pietersen that fuelled ‘I still got it’ truth bomb

It’s possible that Pietersen enlightened Kohli on the spirit in which he had made on-air remarks on Sunday, during the Gujarat Titans-Mumbai Indians contest.

A little before 6 pm on Monday, Kevin Pietersen strode purposefully towards the western side of the M Chinnaswamy Stadium outfield. To figure out where he was headed and who the object of his interest was, was a no-brainer; in front of several hundred adoring fans, Virat Kohli was having a knock, readying for Royal Challengers Bengaluru’s first home game of the season, against Punjab Kings.

Royal Challengers Bengaluru’s Virat Kohli(ANI )

As he got to within five feet of Kohli — not oblivious to Pietersen’s march — the former England captain opened his arms wide. Kohli reciprocated in kind and the two superstars slid into a warm, long embrace, followed by a conversation that lasted a quarter of an hour.

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One’s not sure what they conversed about, but it’s possible that Pietersen enlightened Kohli on the spirit in which he had made on-air remarks on Sunday night, during the Gujarat Titans-Mumbai Indians contest. Reflecting on the forthcoming T20 World Cup in June, Pietersen made a pitch for Kohli’s inclusion in the Indian squad, stating, “The World Cup is happening in the USA, India are playing Pakistan in New York. You’d want someone like a Virat Kohli to help the game grow (in the US).”

Ravi Shastri, who formed a spectacular and successful management combine with Kohli for a half-dozen years as team director and then head coach, was one of Pietersen’s co-commentators, and he quickly responded with, “It’s not about growing the game, it’s about winning the competition. The game will grow wherever it needs to grow. India won in 2007 with a young side. You want youth. You want flamboyance. You want that dash.”

Shastri wasn’t making a case for Kohli’s non-inclusion; he was merely stating the obvious when he alluded to the fact that a World Cup wasn’t the platform from which to ‘grow the game’.

So much for the subtext. Back to the present, as it was on Monday night. After Punjab Kings posted a competitive 176 for six on a tacky track, Kohli’s response was, well, typically Kohli. He rode his luck somewhat – dropped on 0, then again on 33 – but otherwise, he was in supreme command, dancing down the track to Kagiso Rabada and Arshdeep Singh and Sam Curran and smacking them through and over the off-side with impunity. It wasn’t a statement-innings – with so much work behind him, Kohli doesn’t need those anymore – but it was still a very resounding message: “I still got it.”

Wait, that’s exactly what Kohli said at the end of the entertainment. Despite his blazing 77, RCB needed a stirring late burst of fireworks from Dinesh Karthik and Mahipal Lomror to canter home, but for his 49-ball masterpiece, 11 fours and two sixes, Kohli was the obvious candidate for the Player of the Match award.

“I know my name is nowadays quite attached to promoting the game in many parts of the world when it comes to T20 cricket. But I still got it, I guess,” he said cheekily after receiving the last of his many awards for the night, leaving no one in any doubt about what he had thought of the previous night’s on-air exchanges between Pietersen and Shastri.

Players have a responsibility to spread the sport, but they can’t be mascots; they are performers and that’s why they must be picked, a point Kohli was possibly subtly trying to make on a night when the performer in him shone through dazzlingly. While he is averse to fronting the media – his last press conference was in September 2022, when he made his maiden T20I hundred against Afghanistan in Dubai – Kohli uses other platforms to speak his mind on issues that revolve directly around him. More power to him.

Kohli didn’t need Monday’s 77 to press his claims for a spot in the World Cup 15. His pedigree will insulate him from more than the occasional failure, but stacking up performances won’t hurt. If Kohli doesn’t make the cut, it won’t be a reflection on his skills but on what the primary decision-makers – Rohit Sharma, Rahul Dravid and chief selector Ajit Agarkar – perceive will be the ideal combination to take India to their first global title since June 2013. There is a logjam at the top of the batting order with Rohit, Yashasvi Jaiswal and Shubman Gill all in the mix; the need for firepower in the middle to end stages will shine the torch on the likes of Suryakumar Yadav, Rinku Singh, Hardik Pandya and potentially Jitesh Sharma. Kohli’s experience, energy and electric fielding, not to mention his immense skills, are all massive assets, but whether they will be enough to win him the nod remains to be seen.


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