Will the knock against HK become the turning point Kohli has been searching for?
NEW DELHI: When a batter is going through a torrid phase of semi-par form, runs against a minnow team can play a crucial role. It’s an encounter in which the player is expected to do well and when he or she does get the runs, despite the fact that a lot of people might not value them very highly, it does serve as a shot in the arm.
Ask Virat Kohli. Once the best batsman in the world, now without a century for almost 3 years. The unbeaten 59 off 44 balls on Wednesday at the Asia Cup would have been very welcome runs for Kohli, even though they came against Hong Kong, who are ranked 20th in the ICC T20I team rankings. Runs under the belt always gives a batter confidence and prepares him or her for harder battles ahead.
This was Kohli’s 31st T20I fifty overall – he has the maximum number of half centuries in T20I cricket overall – and though his last fifty in the shortest format was scored only 4 games ago (for him), it was over 6 months ago – on February 18, 2022.
Since then, Kohli has also played 2 ODIs, both against England with scores of 16 and 17, and 3 Test matches with scores of 45, 23 and 13 (against Sri Lanka) and 11 and 20 in the rescheduled fifth Test against England.
Kohli also played 16 matches in IPL 2022 for RCB, in which he scored 341 runs at an average of 22.73, a strike rate of 115.98, with two half-centuries.
When Kohli opted to rest for India’s T20I series against West Indies and the tour of Zimbabwe, there were many eyebrows raised. But there were also voices that supported the decision – people who knew that an extended break is what Virat really needed.
Kohli’s 35-run knock against Pakistan in India’s Asia Cup opener was another reminder that he doesn’t really have any problems with technique currently, like he did in 2014. Yes he got off to a nervous start and that can happen when the team has lost a wicket off the second ball of the match. When he found his groove against Pakistan, Kohli’s feet started to move, and the bat began meeting the ball at the sweet spot. Kohli’s short arm jab four to the mid-wicket fence off Haris Rauf in the sixth over was reminiscent of the good old ‘King Kohli’, who loved to dominate the bowlers and dictate terms.
India had 38 runs on the board when Kohli arrived at the crease in the fifth over against Hong Kong. At the other end was KL Rahul, who himself was struggling to find form. And on a two-paced wicket, both Kohli and Rahul built their innings exercising caution, which also drew flak.
It didn’t help Kohli that at the other end was a batsman who was making his comeback to the team and had got out for a first ball duck in the previous match.
Of two stellar knocks, a dominating partnership, mutual admirations & much more 💥👌𝐃𝐨 𝐍𝐨𝐭 𝐌𝐢𝐬𝐬 – Half-centurions… https://t.co/ULMeqS02wR
— BCCI (@BCCI) 1662010205000
Kohli had scored 33 runs off 28 balls when Rahul’s scratchy knock of 36 runs off 39 balls ended. And then in walked Suryakumar Yadav and he started tearing apart the Hong Kong bowling attack from the word go. While Surya played unrestrained cricket, Virat knew this was an opportunity to build a big innings – something that he has been accused of not playing for a while, consistently.
Surya’s confidence seemed to rub off on Kohli, as the former captain reached a much-needed half-century off 40 balls in the penultimate over of the Indian innings.
What was also interesting about Virat’s knock was the fact that it had three sixes and only one four. Traditionally, Virat has been more of a boundary hitter, unlike a Rohit Sharma or a Martin Guptill (the two players ahead of him on the list of most T20I runs). So far in his T20I career, Virat has hit 303 fours and 97 sixes. It was perhaps another reminder of the fact that Virat is using these innings to find that lost spark, without going for broke.
The gaps in the field will be found again, the lost spark might already have been found. So far in this edition of the Asia Cup Virat is the leading run-getter, with 94 runs in 2 innings. His average, thanks largely to the 59* vs Hong Kong, reads 94. The strike rate of 120.51 is what Virat will be looking to improve on in the remaining games.
Next up for India will be Pakistan again, in the Super 4s (unless Hong Kong pull off a massive upset) and Virat, the highest run-getter for India in T20Is vs Pakistan should be quietly confident of a bigger score. Is that maiden T20I century around the corner?
And what about that T20 World Cup berth? Well, he wouldn’t be too worried about that.