Royal Challengers Bangalore’s most decorated batsman in Indian Premier League history, Virat Kohli, is not having the best of tournaments so far in its 15th edition. With only 48 against Mumbai Indians being his highest and another 41 not out against Punjab Kings in the first match being his only other significant contribution from him, he has been finding ways to get out in the other matches.
Either the bowler has prized him out, forcing him into making mistakes, like the first-ball duck against Lucknow Super Giants on Tuesday evening at DY Patil Stadium or pulling straight into the hands of long-leg fielder early in his innings like he did against Chennai Super Kings, or feel that injustice was done to him when he was two short of a half-century against MI and be given out leg before wicket to, of all the bowlers, ‘Baby AB’ Dewald Brevis in his very first ball in IPL career when he thought there was a bat to it. Otherwise, he has fallen prey to the bowler’s guile, like Kolkata Knight Riders’ Umesh Yadav induced him into nicking one behind. If nothing else, luck has deserted him as was the case against Delhi Capitals when he was run out by a brilliant Lalit Yadav throw with the fielder having only one stump to aim at.
On Tuesday at the DY Patil Stadium against LSG under perfect batting conditions, Kohli, walking in at No. 3 in the sixth ball of the match, had everything to play for. The full attendance of 50% capacity crowd present at the sprawling Navi Mumbai stadium egged the immediate-past captain of the franchise to do well and take on the LSG bowlers. Instead, he fell for a first-ball ‘duck’ to Sri Lanka right-arm pacer Dushmantha Chameera.
Kohli joined Faf du Plessis, who had not yet faced a delivery as left-handed opener Anuj Rawat faced the first four deliveries, even driving Chameera past the bowler for four and followed it with a similar stroke to the on-side but was too early for the shot. The resulting catch was taken by LSG skipper KL Rahul at mid-on, just managing to get his fingers underneath the ball and inches off the ground.
A lot was expected from Kohli. But, the first ball to him from Chameera was widish and the former India captain instinctively cut it straight into the hands of birthday boy Deepak Hooda at backward point. Kohli ought to have let the ball go, get settled down and then go for his shots from him, especially with the form that he has been in recently. The dismissal left Kohli stunned as were the thousands of RCB and Kohli supporters at the venue.
This was Kohli’s seventh IPL zero in 206 innings and fourth ‘golden duck’ after the previous ones came in 2008 against Mumbai Indians, 2014 against Punjab Kings and 2017 against Kolkata Knight Riders. This was also the third time that Kohli was dismissed inside the Power Play in this edition of IPL after cheaply falling against CSK and KKR. In the previous two occasions, RCB went on to lose but not on Tuesday, thanks to Faf du Plessis’s magnificent 96.
What does one do when things don’t go your way? Kohli, with 117 runs in seven innings at 19.83, is not alone in this. Kohli at least is free of the captaincy burden and has to only focus on his batting besides mentoring his team as a premier world-class batsman. His successor to him as Team India captain in all the three formats, Rohit Sharma of Mumbai Indians, is going through a similar rough patch, totaling only 114 in six innings at 19.00 with 41 in the opening match against Delhi Capitals being the highest besides a couple of 20s. So, Sharma has been getting the starts before digging his own grave like he fell to Kagiso Rabada of Punjab Kings, checking his pull shot and top-edging to offer short fine-leg Vaibhav Arora a catch. Only the previous delivery, Sharma hit a beautiful six over cover to reach 10,000 runs in his T20 career.
At least Kohli’s RCB has been winning matches and are currently second in the points table with five wins from seven matches.
Rohit Sharma’s Struggles Mirrors that of Mumbai Indians
Sharma, who has the most T20 International hundreds (four) in the world, has not only to worry about his own form but also figure out where his team’s first win is coming from. The most successful captain in IPL history, leading MI to five titles (2013, 2015, 2017, 2019 and 2020), Sharma is seeing his team off to their worst start in the tournament. Without a win in their six matches, this start is worse than the five consecutive defeats at the start of the 2014 season when the first set of matches were held in the UAE due to the Lok Sabha elections.
When the tournament then returned to India, MI won seven of their remaining nine league matches to qualify for the Play Offs, where they lost to Chennai Super Kings in Qualifier 2. The advantage MI had was that they were returning to their fortress, Wankhede Stadium , where they have an impressive win record. Out of the 65 matches that MI have played at the Wankhede, MI have won 40, making it a 61.53% success rate.
So far, MI have not played any of their six matches at their ‘home ground’, the Wankhede. Though Brabourne Stadium and DY Patil Stadium are also like home for MI, nothing comes close to being at home and feeling at home than at the Wankhede for the five-time champions. This time around, they don’t play at the Wankhede until coming Sunday against Lucknow Super Giants (their eighth match) play only four matches at this venue.
Sharma’s form also is a matter of concern as apart from Suryakumar Yadav and to some extent the teenagers Brevis and Tilak Verma, none of the others have come good. The costliest buy in the February auctions, Ishan Kishan (₹15.25Cr), though scored two fifties, has been a failure in the last four matches with scores of 14, 26, 3 and 13. It seems that the days of Kieron Pollard, who announced his retirement from international cricket on Wednesday, scoring big and giving his team those extra useful runs in the end are well past him. Perhaps, the firepower of Hardik Pandya and Pollard in the end overs are what MI are missing badly. Pandya, though, is doing what he does best, as captain of Gujarat Titans. Once the combination that has worked well over the years has been separated, it will take time to figure out the correct replacements and the right combination.
Perhaps, that is what Chennai Super Kings are facing so badly this year, without their premier batsman Faf du Plessis at the top and world No. 3 ranked T20I bowler, Josh Hazlewood. Off to their worst start in IPL with four straight losses before opening their account against RCB in a high-scoring match and again going back to their losing ways against Gujarat Titans, when they were overpowered by David ‘Killer’ Miller, questions are raised about the presence of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his contribution to the team. Dhoni, who led CSK to victory last year, their fourth IPL title, relinquished captaincy and handed it over to Ravindra Jadeja.
Is MS Dhoni a Pale Shadow of Himself Now?
As a batsman, Dhoni has lost the firepower and the ability to finish matches for his team as he had been regularly doing until about a couple of years ago. Perhaps, age is catching up with Dhoni, who after his retirement from international cricket two years ago, has only been playing in IPL and nothing in between. It is not easy to get into the form by playing only in IPL and not being involved in playing for the remaining 10 months of the year.
Whether Dhoni gives way for a youngster and still contributes to the team’s progress from the dugout is entirely his and the franchise owner’s call. Dhoni, as a brand value to CSK, is huge, just like Kohli is for RCB and Sharma is for MI. It is impossible to think of CSK without Dhoni, RCB without Kohli or MI without Sharma.
The team franchises are identified by the popularity of these cricketers. During the two years (2016 and 2017) when CSK was banned and Dhoni turned out for Rising Pune Supergiant, it was strange to see the 2011 World Cup winning captain in the team’s purple and pink. Dhoni’s fans could not accept him in any other franchise color than CSK’s yellow.
Kohli has remained an RCB loyal right from the start of IPL in 2008 while Rohit Sharma has stayed with MI since moving out of Deccan Chargers for the 2011 season.
One thing to be remembered here is that the players’ performances should not be judged by merely their IPL form. Yes, players have broken into the Indian team based on the IPL performances.
Sharma and Kohli, especially as they are still key members of the Indian team and with the ICC T20 World Cup scheduled this year, it is important that they are in the right frame of mind and hope that their big scores are round the corner.
Like they say, form is temporary, class is permanent. The fans must be hoping that the duo of current India captain and his predecessor will get runs quickly for the sake of their own good, for their franchise’s good and for the good of Indian cricket. As for their mentor Dhoni, it is crucial that he gets back the winning touch for himself and the team. For, Dhoni seems to be indispensable as far as CSK is concerned. Just like how Kohli and Sharma are for their respective franchises and for Indian cricket.