BENGALURU: In match 36 of the ongoing Indian Premier League, Virat Kohli, playing for Royal Challengers Bangalore, geared up to face this first ball against Sunrisers Hyderabad’s left-arm seamer Marco Jansen. The length was full and the ball was angling away from Kohli who tentatively pushed at it. The thick outside edge from the bat flew to the first slip where it was duly caught by Aiden Markram. The right-hand batsman was in complete disbelief as he stood at the crease looking dreadfully dispirited.
It was the second golden duck on the trot in this season’s IPL. The crestfallen look on his visage encapsulates how desperate he is to score runs. Once a veritable run-machine, Kohli hasn’t scored a hundred in any format of the game in the last three years. What initially looked like a blip has become a prolonged malaise.
Since the start of the decade, from January 1, 2020, Kohli has eked out merely 841 runs in 17 Tests at a subpar average of 28.03. This stands in stark contrast to his overall Test record in which he has scored over 8,000 runs in 101 Tests with 27 hundreds to his credit.
Similarly, his One-Day International stats have also taken a beating. While his ODI average stands at an astonishing 58 and he has bagged 43 tons, since January 1, 2020, he has averaged 39 with no hundred to his credit.
Though he has fared slightly better in T20 Internationals during his lean phase he’s a pale shadow of his past.
Kohli was in the midst of gargantuan run-glut between 2012-2019 as he thumped 27 Test tons in just 79 Tests at an average of 57. His numbers were even more impressive in the ODIs as he notched up 35 hundreds in 168 matches and averaged over 65.
Even if we take into account that a batter or any sportsman can’t perform at the same level throughout his career, his slump has been too prolonged and the difference between his performances too huge to condone.
Recently, former Indian coach Ravi Shastri – who had joined forces with then captain Kohli to make India the no.1 Test team – sparked off the debate when he suggested that Kohli must think of stepping away from the game to rejuvenate himself.
“I think a break is ideal for him because he has played non-stop cricket and he has captained the side across all formats. It will be wise of him to take a break,” Shastri said.
“You know, sometimes you have to draw the balance. This year he is already into the tournament (IPL 2022), tomorrow if push comes to shove and you want to prolong your international career and make a mark there for 6-7 years, pull out of the IPL, for all you care,” he stated.
“He (Virat) is still young and he has the best 5-6 years ahead of him. He would have realised what he has gone through in these (last) few months. He knows he has to go back to the drawing board, how he thinks, how he approaches and he has to literally start from scratch. He isn’t the only one; there have been many players in the past who have gone through this,” he added.
So, should Kohli take a short hiatus from cricket?
Through his consistently bravura performances, Kohli has already established himself as one of the best cricketers ever across formats. No one can question his cricketing pedigree, intensity and commitment to the game.
The kind of incendiary intensity he exudes on the field ultimately takes a toll on a player at some point. During his captaincy stint, he led from the front and exhibited tremendous zeal and verve to win every match. His steadfast commitment and unrelenting energy elevated India’s fortunes. However, this has also worn him out mentally as well.
More importantly, the last 6 months have been tumultuous for him away from the field as well. His much-publicised spat with the BCCI president Sourav Ganguly over the captaincy conundrum seems to have left a scar as well. He perhaps did the right thing to voluntarily relinquish Test captaincy in December after he was removed as the ODI skipper.
He looks beset with the three-pronged burden of relentlessly playing cricket, batting form and a welter of controversies. He’s just 34 and there is no reason why a champion cricketer like him cannot bounce back with a vengeance. Taking a brief sabbatical from the game and replenishing his energies is an excellent idea. It will also give him the time to think over his batting and retool his game. The short break will help him to reignite his passion and discover his mojo.
He can take inspiration from his idol Sachin Tendulkar who was at a crossroads, when he was 34, after India’s unceremonious exit from the World Cup in March 2007. His record between 2005 to March 2007 was not a patch on the exalted standards he had set for himself. The talks about his impending retirement or possible axe were abound in cricketing circles.
However, the maestro didn’t get bogged down. He went to the drawing board, cleared the cobwebs in his head, recalibrated his game, worked diligently on his fitness and went on to reassert his dominance with the bat in all forms of the game.
There’s no reason why a cricketer like Kohli, who has a gargantuan appetite and drive to succeed, cannot replicate his idol and serve his country for the next few years with distinction.