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Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Why Virat and Rohit don’t justify match winners’ tag in ICC knockout games

Both have either failed to play impactful innings when it has mattered most or have been overshadowed by far superior batting by opposition.

Written by Tushar Bhaduri | New Delhi |
Updated: November 3, 2021 7:47:49 am
India's Rohit Sharma talks to captain Virat Kohli after the fall of Zealand's Martin Guptill wicket during the Cricket Twenty20 World Cup match between New Zealand and India in Dubai (Source: AP)

After another underwhelming performance in a must-win – virtually knockout – game, the contrast couldn’t be starker. India is the best team going around, across formats, home and away, when it comes to bilateral series. But the trophy cabinet has been vacant ever since the 2013 Champions Trophy, as far as major ICC events are concerned.

It’s not as if India are not making it to the latter stages of big competitions. India routinely reach at least the semifinals of these elite tournaments, but there seems to be a mental block or glass ceiling that they don’t seem to overcome. The big guns, who play a big part in India getting to the business end and lord over everyone in bilateral series, don’t deliver when needed most, as was the case against the Kiwis on Sunday.

Virat Kohli was the Player of the Tournament in the last two T20 World Cups, but in the 2015 50-over World Cup semifinal, 2017 Champions Trophy final, 2019 World Cup semifinal and the summit clash of the World Test Championship, he has failed to play the match-defining innings.

Rohit Sharma has evolved into a multi-format stalwart over the years, and was hitting hundreds for fun at the 2019 World Cup, but he too hasn’t been able to take India over the line in knockout games.

It may be a touch harsh to point a finger at their relative failures in the latter stages of big tournaments where only the best teams are in action. But the top players cement their legacy by making it count in the matches that count.

When it comes to the Indian team, there’s invariably a top-order collapse in a match that puts them on the backfoot. Some less charitable fans may be tempted to use the c-word, usually mentioned with relation to South Africa who often flattered to deceive in major ICC tournaments despite having a stellar team.

Virat Kohli In two of these three games, Kohli came to the crease quite early in the piece against the new ball and succumbed to the movement. (file photo)

Kohli’s code

Kohli scored a single apiece in the semifinals of the 2015 and 2019 World Cups, and 5 in the 2017 Champions Trophy final. It prompted several 1-5-1 memes on social media. Scores of 44 and 13 in the World Test Championship final against New Zealand did nothing to change the complexion of the contest.

Add to the list the 17-ball 9 on Sunday and the casual fan may be forgiven for thinking that the modern-day legend goes missing in crunch situations.

There’s one common factor in the three aforementioned failures in 50-over games – left-arm pace. Mitchell Johnson, Mohammad Amir and Trent Boult were Kohli’s conquerors. It may be too much to suggest that he has a weakness against this style of bowling, but the angle allied with the movement may pose unique challenges to batsmen.

In two of these three games, Kohli came to the crease quite early in the piece against the new ball and succumbed to the movement. In the 2015 World Cup semifinal, he top-edged an attempted pull off Johnson’s well-directed short ball.

It has to be mentioned here that Kohli’s is always the prize wicket for any opposition, more so when India is chasing – a scenario in which he has made his name in limited-overs cricket. Captains usually employ their best men against him and the bowlers also try harder against Kohli, if that’s indeed possible.

India’s Rohit Sharma hits a six against New Zealand. (Reuters)

Rohit fails the crunch test

The Mumbai stalwart has turned into arguably the best cross-format opener in world cricket. His limited-overs batting reached another level once he took his place at the top of the order. He got starts in the semifinals of the 2015 World Cup (34) and the 2016 World T20 (43), but failed to play the match-defining innings. Rohit didn’t last long in the 2017 Champions Trophy final (0) and the 2019 World Cup semifinal (1). He had been on a century-spree in the latter tournament before falling early in the knockout clash. An opener always faces the risk of falling early to the threat of a new ball and fresh bowlers. But when he was set and had the opportunity to play an innings of substance in a big match, Rohit faltered.

Leading lights blow out

Kohli and Sharma have been permanent fixtures in the limited-overs team over this period. They have played enough top-level cricket that the big games, which carry consequences with them, do not faze them.

Playing for India always involves expectations and pressure, and top players carry the bulk of it. But their performances show that the occasion may get the better of them.

It’s true that bowlers also have a part to play. Jasprit Bumrah has been a regular feature and was taken to the cleaners in the 2016 World T20 semifinal and the 2017 Champions Trophy final. But he has been the banker in the last few years and the anchor of the attack, in which the other personnel keep on changing.

Match-by-match analysis

India has reached at least the semifinals of every big ICC event, starting from the 2013 Champions Trophy. But that’s the last of these competitions when they managed to lift the silverware.
In big matches, the big players are expected to make a difference, and they don’t come any bigger than Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma. However, the two stalwarts have largely disappointed on the big occasion, since the 2015 World Cup.

2015 World Cup semifinal
Kohli: 1, Sharma 34

Australia had put up a stiff target of 329, but India had got off to a good start through Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan. Kohli came in with the score reading 76/1 in the 13th over. But he succumbed to a well-directed Mitchell Johnson bouncer for a 13-ball 1. Sharma followed soon, leaving India at 91/3 in 18 overs.

2016 World T20 semifinal
Kohli: 89 (47), Sharma 43 (31)

Kohli was in blistering form in the tournament, and continued in the same vein against West Indies. He and Dhoni set up the innings for the late flourish and a score of 192/2 seemed formidable. But the power-hitters from the Caribbean made it look utterly inadequate.

Sharma gave India a fluent start but got out before making a telling difference.

2017 Champions Trophy final
Kohli: 5, Sharma 0

India were chasing a mammoth 339 but were set back early in the chase. Mohammad Amir trapped Sharma in front in the first over, and removed Kohli in the third over.

2019 World Cup semifinal
Kohli: 1, Sharma 1

India were set a modest target of 240, but were rocked early by Matt Henry and Trent Boult. Henry had Sharma caught behind while Kohli was LBW. There was hardly a way back from a score of 24/4.

2021 World Test Championship final
Kohli: 44 & 13, Sharma 34 & 30

A lot of Indian batsmen got off to starts, but failed to carry on. As a result, India managed just 217 and 170. India had a little deficit in the first innings, and the big guns could have played match-defining knocks in the second essay. But they got out after spending time in the middle. Kohli was dismissed by Kyle Jamieson in both innings, while Sharma succumbed to Jamieson in the first innings and Tim Southee in the second.

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