The number one ranked batsman in the world, Virat Kohli is without question a world class player. Rankings notwithstanding, Kohli has consistently been one of the premier batsmen in world cricket over the last few years. But his latest flop show in the Champions trophy final has brought up a question. Is the chase master not a big game player? Because Kohli’s failure to win a final for his team is hurting his legacy.
Calling Kohli a big game bottler may not be correct, as he has proved himself in pressure situations. The virtual knockout out games against Pakistan and Australia in last year’s T20 world cup were vintage Kohli performances. When India needed someone to take them home, Kohli stood strong and guided his team across the finish line on both occasions.
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Which is why Kohli’s failures in the big semi finals and finals are inexplicable. After having an incredible IPL 2016, his RCB side needed a big performance from their captain in the final. But Kohli could not guide his team home, as they eventually lost out to the Sunriser’s Hyderabad.
While chasing a target, Kohli has scored 17 centuries, with 15 out of the 17 coming in winning causes. No one in history of the game comes close to Kohli when it comes to run chases. With an average of 64.18 while chasing, Kohli is head and shoulders above everyone else. Kohli’s numbers are even better than two of the greatest finishers that the game has ever seen in Micheal Bevan and MS Dhoni.
So what happened in the semi final of the 2015 World Cup?
Australia had set India a target of 329 to win. No team in world cricket had consistently chased down targets exceeding 300 like India. But come the big day, India failed to reach their target. And King Kohli failed. The match was all but done the moment he top edged Mitch Johnson’s short ball into Brad Haddin’s grateful hands.
And history repeated itself in the Champions Trophy final. Pakistan set India a huge target of 339. Once again, Kohli came into the match on the back of a brilliant run chase against Bangladesh. Once again India needed their superstar to fire. And once again he failed. Kohli was initially dropped at first slip off Aamir’s bowling. Yes, Aamir was in the midst of a brilliant spell. But instead of seeing off him off, Kohli tried to play across the line of the very next ball, and eventually scooping a simple catch to point.
Is this harsh? Is it unfair to criticize Kohli for his failures on the very big stage? Maybe. But the stats do not lie.
In finals of ODI tournaments, Kohli averages 22 in eight matches with nothing to show in the 50s or 100s columns. This is huge fall for someone who has an average of 54 in ODI cricket.
This is probably the achilles heel of the much vaunted Indian lineup. India are over reliant on their top three. Dhawan, Rohit and Kohli are sensational batsmen in own right, which is why the Indian middle order hardly ever gets tested. But all three of them seem to flop on the biggest of stages, which is a cause for concern heading into the next world cup.
It is also possible that Kohli puts too much pressure on himself in these big matches. Maybe. But this has become a tag that he has to remove at some point in his career.
Every great player had one seemingly insurmountable obstacle that he had to scale. People said Tendulkar never won India a final. Overall, he did win two finals for India, the 1998 final in Sharjah and the 2008 CB series final. Then they said that he never won a world cup, which he eventually did in 2011.
Maybe this is Kohli’s great obstacle. Maybe he will shake this monkey of his back. But as for today, Kohli may be the man for the big occasion, but he is not the man for the biggest of occasions.