You cannot blame Virat Kohli for trying. He is a professional cricketer who has been woefully out of form for three long years. He had to cop a lot of criticism which the anxious fans and cricket fraternity dished out. Then one fine evening, he came up against emotionally spent, physically exhausted Afghan bowlers, going through the motions in a meaningless game, and went into a hitting frenzy. Full marks for succeeding, Mr. Kohli, because nothing succeeds like success. But let us not forget how he was embarrassed in the last over versus Pakistan, and got out for a duck against the Lankans in crucial Super 4 matches. Let me be a tad bolder and argue that the last four balls faced by Virat against Pakistan (which fetched a solitary run), and the four he faced against the Lankans (which fetched none) set us back in the tournament. Eight balls, one run, twice out in two crucial, must-win matches. What could be worse?
Let us get some perspective. Afghans had bowled better than the Indians in the tournament till the time they harboured hope. Naseem Shah’s sixes had already killed them. Virat Kohli made merry with dead Afghan bowlers. A dead rubber is a meaningless exercise. What are statistics without proper context? BCCI management was effusive in the praise, considering that the selection headache stands resolved till the T20 World Cup. Kohli now has enough credit balance to plod on. The media went overboard, as is their wont, in welcoming back the return of King Kohli, or whatever cringe headline they could muster. Kohli’s own reaction bordered on the farcical, thanking his wife and daughter, for scoring a hundred against minnows in a match without consequences.
That said, even if Kohli is now a burden upon the T20 side, the latest hundred notwithstanding, his return to form does augur well for the upcoming tests and ODIs. But I fear this innings is gonna end up hurting India’s interests in T20 in the short term. It took him 1019 days and 83 innings to finally get his 71st ton, and that’s a cause for huge relief, which may have resulted in disproportionate jubilations.
As for the fans, they would take anything, won’t they, since their team is down in the dumps. This is an age-old Indian malaise. The great Sachin Tendulkar took forever to get his 100th 100. When it finally arrived against Bangladesh in an Asia Cup match in 2012 (114 off 147 balls), it torpedoed India’s chances in the tournament. Needless to point out, we went crazy for a meaningless milestone, and glossed over the defeat it brought in its wake. But even the worst of Sachin’s critics would not allege that he had become a burden upon the test or ODI side, like Kohli has, or at one point, Kapil had. It is just that the obsession with the hundredth hundred weighed down on the national and Sachin’s own morale.
Who can forget how India carried Kapil Dev for at least a couple of years and twenty odd tests, just so that the great man could break Richard Hadlee’e record of most Test wickets. Javagal Srinath warmed the bench in the prime of his youth despite Kapil having lost pace and form. Since the record was in sight, Azhar would bowl him few overs and go back to the spinners’ trio. Those slow days gave us Anil Kumble, but that would be missing the obvious point. In fact, Kapil had a very poor 1989-90, in which he took 24 wickets in 10 tests on the pace friendly wickets of New Zealand and England, at an average of 47 and a strike rate of almost 100. Anyone else would have lost his place, but this is Kapil we are talking about. He came back, got some wickets against the hapless Lankans on an under-prepared wicket at Mohali, got a ODI hat trick too, and then enjoyed resurgence on the OZ tour where he took 25 wickets in 5 tests. But after that, his bowling form declined. He did get a crucial 60 Vs Zimbabwe in the Harare test, and a magnificent 129 versus the Proteas at Port Elizabeth, but that 1993 tour should have ideally been his last. To have retired after that majestic innings would have been oh, so perfect.
But Kapil hung on, the Board could not ask him to go, and the pale shadow of a once glorious cricketer finally got his 432nd scalp when Hashan Tillakaratne holed out in the third test. The Motera officials released 432 balloons to mark the occasion. Doordarshan halted the live telecast of the match and aired a song –
Keh do ye koi khwaab nahin,
Kapil da jawab nahin.
The skipper, Azharuddin, handed over his Man of the Match award to Kapil, which demonstrated unheard of solidarity among the top players in Indian cricket. The stage was perfect to call it a day. Yet Kapil still had the appetite for carry on for two more years, as he declared in the press conference after breaking the record. This took the Board by surprise. Neither Dalmia (BCCI Chief), nor Vishwanath (Chairman of Selectors) wished to take up the matter with Kaps. Anshuman Gaekwad, one of the selectors, then told Kapil that he needed to retire. Kapil still played one more test against the Kiwis at Faridabad before his home crowd and then called it quits. Really beats me then, why did he have to play one more. Now I know. There must be some pending personal milestone, about which we do not know. Like Sachin wanted to play 200 tests, and bow down before his home crowd.
As if that matters in the long run.
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