Virat Kohli is the man of the moment in Indian cricket. Although the hosts fell short of target in the World Twenty20, he stood out with his composure and class.
Kohli kept aside a brand new bat, with the sponsor’s logo gleaming, and arrived to address the media on Monday, on the eve of his team’s opening IPL game against Sunrisers Hyderabad.
Ten days after the World T20 semifinal defeat, Kohli had overcome the heartbreak and was ready to start afresh. On Tuesday, he would become one of the few players to feature for the same IPL team in all nine seasons. Harbhajan Singh has played for Mumbai Indians in every season while Lasith Malinga is expected to play for that franchise once he regains fitness.
He acknowledged it was hard to stomach the early exit in WT20, and spoke about how the RCB management picked him as a talented youngster in 2008 and allowed him to mature playing with some of the world’s leading players. Kohli now enters his fourth full year as RCB skipper.
He described the team as “one of the top three sides in the league as far as I see it”. But RCB have not been able to convert heavyweight performances into a title. In 2009 and 2011, they were runners-up. Only if they win the title can RCB justify the talent in their ranks.
Few would bet against a side boasting of the batting firepower comprising Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers and Kohli. But RCB have fallen short. Six of the eight teams this time have Indian skippers. MS Dhoni, Rohit Sharma and Gautam Gambhir have led their teams to two titles each. The intense competitor in Kohli would be determined to match that.
Kohli is likely to miss Australia left-arm paceman Mitchell Starc. The 2015 World Cup Player-of-the-Tournament, who was brilliant last season, has been ruled out after ankle surgery in December. RCB will hope all-rounder Shane Watson, the most expensive buy at this year’s auctions at `9.5 crore, makes up for that.
“We will miss Starc. He was our impact bowler last season. But Watson is very experienced, very economical and can think like a batsman,” Kohli said. But Kohli must ensure RCB are consistent and don’t get satisfied with individual batting efforts.
Early in his RCB career, Kohli told the RCB management to let him bat in the top-order or bench him as his game was not suited to hitting in the slog overs. As skipper, his job will be to ensure flexibility in the top-order. That may require AB de Villiers to bat at No 3 or Kohli to open with Gayle.
In 2015, RCB lost in Qualifier 2 to Chennai, a step short of the final. Sunrisers Hyderabad, who finished sixth, have to improve a lot, but their key players are not in their best form. Shikhar Dhawan as well as skipper David Warner were subdued in the WT20. Kiwi pacer Trent Boult didn’t get a game with only Ashish Nehra’s form is a big plus.