On the face of it, this is the IPL eliminator between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Kolkata Knight Riders in Sharjah. But from the perspective of RCB captain Virat Kohli, this game probably offers the bigger picture.
Kohli will step down from the IPL captaincy at the end of this year’s tournament and Monday’s game may be his last as the Bangalore-based franchise captain after nine years in charge. The decision announced in the middle of the tournament will ease some pressure on Captain Kohli as it will remove the power of the debaters to remove him if he fails to win the title again. However, another trophy-free season critics will sharpen their swords and point to the empty cabinet.
Last year, after RCB Sunrisers lost to Hyderabad in the eliminator, former Indian batsman and two-time KKR title-winning captain Gautam Gambhir raised the issue of accountability. Despite his elimination as another eliminator and his decision to relinquish the RCB captaincy, he faces even tougher questions.
With the T20 World Cup approaching, it will be Kohli’s final responsibility as India’s T20 captain. Obviously, he does not like to carry any negative vibes in such an important tournament. Even as a batsman, he has not played a match-winning knock in white-ball cricket for a considerable period of time now.
Kohli has scored 366 runs in 14 games in this IPL, including three fifties. By his highest standards, it feels a little low. For almost two years, he did not make a century of limited overs. Add the latest issue of his head falling and going outside the ball line while playing the line on the leg-side. Going to Bhuvneshwar Kumar that way a few days ago is still fresh in the memory of the fans.
Some technical issues arise when a cricketer plays for a long time and Kohli, the master batsman, does not need the help of a coach to sort it out. Such problems are solved in the off-season these days, which is virtually non-existent these days. The second phase of the IPL in the UAE begins with a Test series in England and there is no gap between the T20 League and the T20 World Cup. India have not won an ICC trophy since 2013 and to overcome the drought, Kohli must be in excellent form at the Showpiece event.
The lack of a good IPL for Rohit Sharma will increase Kohli’s responsibility for the T20 World Cup. Both are big tournament players and play with different intensity of world competition. However, the big runs against the particularly spectacular KKR bowling attack at the end of the IPL business give Kohli serious confidence.
India’s first match in the T20 World Cup against Pakistan has become even more interesting. Forget the gulf between the two teams, the hype-building on the other side of the border has already begun. “A strong investor told me that the PCB was ready for a blank check if Pakistan beat India in the upcoming T20 World Cup,” Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Rameez Raja recently told his country’s Senate Standing Committee.
Kohli talks a lot about ‘head space’ and getting it right is important before the Indian T20 World Cup opener. In the case of the eliminator, his immediate goal could be a more productive powerplay bowling-wise.
RCB’s average powerplay economy rate is 8.38, 11 wickets in the first six overs compared to KKR 17. Kohli, at times, stopped Yuzvendra Chahal against the left-hander. It will be interesting to see if he uses a leg spinner at the start of the eliminator.
Despite the lack of powerplay statistics, RCB’s bowling performance in the middle overs and at the time of death was excellent. But KKR’s massive artillery – likely to be Andre Russell fit – may not allow their opponents to rally.