IPL 2019: Virat Kohli and a Royal mess - Analysis
Trust Gautam Gambhir to get Virat Kohli hot under the collar even when they are not on the field.
“I don’t see him as a shrewd captain. I don’t see him as a tactful captain. And he hasn’t won the IPL. So ultimately, a captain is only as good as his record,” Gambhir had said during a promotional event for the official broadcasters before this season’s Indian Premier League (IPL).
Gambhir, who led Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) to two titles, has a history with Kohli: the two Delhi stars had got into an ugly on-field row in IPL 2016. This time Gambhir said Kohli was ‘lucky’ that he could continue as captain for eight years despite an underwhelming record. Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB)were sixth last year and last in 2017.
Such unsparing assessment though had the RCB captain fuming. Kohli hit back, saying he “would be sitting at home if I think like people from outside”, and that “I don’t care whether I am going to be judged on this (not winning a title) or not.” This was in Chennai, one day before IPL12 began.
The next evening, RCB were blown apart for 70 by reigning champions Chennai Super Kings (CSK). If Kohli didn’t think he shouldn’t have shot from the lip then, perhaps he would after five successive losses. The last defeat came on Friday with Andre Russell snatching victory for KKR from the jaws of defeat. Every six Russell hit in an innings would have felt like a hammer blow for Kohli, in his 101st game as RCB skipper. Under Kohli, RCB have won 44 games and lost 52.
RCB are a top-order heavy team that looks wobbly despite the presence of Kohli and AB de Villiers, the best batsman in the world and the best in this format. ‘No total is safe’ should have referred to RCB’s formidable batting but after Friday it seems like a tag line for a confused bowling unit that can’t defend 205.
In such a situation those at the helm would normally be walking on egg shells. On Twitter, posts have been put up by RCB fans saying they don’t want Kohli as captain and that he should play only as a batsman. Some have even said he shouldn’t lead India in the World Cup. Others have said Kohli leads India better only because he gets more than a little help from MS Dhoni.
But Kohli is both RCB’s batting force and their biggest brand ambassador. Though he has dismissed IPL’s effect on the composition of India’s World Cup side, it beggars belief that he would want to head to England in such a frame of mind.
Kohli’s admission that RCB needed a shake-up after their fourth defeat, away to Rajasthan Royals, seemed out of character. After Russell blitzed to an unbeaten 48 off 13 balls, with Kiwi pacer Tim Southee leaking 29 runs in the 19th over, Kohli turned on the bowlers.
“If you bowl with not enough bravery in the crunch overs, then you will always struggle against power-hitters like Russell. We cracked a bit under pressure, and that’s the only story,” he said in Bengaluru.
While guiding India to the top in all formats, Kohli has dropped those he felt didn’t fit in. Last year, it was Ajinkya Rahane in South Africa, then Cheteshwar Pujara in England. All the while he has steadfastly backed Dhoni in white ball cricket.
The landmark Test series win in Australia turned the focus from his decisions to India’s showing. But as Kohli slides south as RCB skipper, Gambhir’s words seem prescient. That Dhoni, Rohit Sharma, Dinesh Karthik and Ajinkya Rahane, some of his counterparts this season, are faring way better at helping teams negotiate the odd bump could leave this flamboyant cricketer feeling like he has chewed a lemon. RCB’s #PLAYBOLD slogan now sounds hollow.
Transformation that hasn’t happened
Dubbed a Test team in the first edition, Kohli was expected to transform RCB. While others honed buying skills at the auctions, Bangalore seemed to be a royal failure. Chris Gayle was seen as over the hill and dumped in 2018. But at Kings XI Punjab, the Jamaican has reinvented himself. RCB have also let go of the consistent Quinton de Kock and KL Rahul who could be India’s third opener at the World Cup.
And they have struggled to smartly use the quota of four foreigners in the playing 11. That is something CSK have mastered, often picking only three imports with domestic players’ roles defined and executed brilliantly.
RCB’s opening pair has always been a problem. This season, Parthiv Patel’s partner was changed in the first four games. Yet again, RCB haven’t been able to assemble a solid bowling unit when CSK, SRH, Mumbai Indians and KKR have all got that balance right year after year.
South African Ray Jennings, who quit as RCB coach after reportedly falling out with Kohli, said in an interview last year: “He can be intimidating in the dressing room and sometimes his teammates can wonder who Kohli really is… He will not be so aggressive and in your face all the time. But in certain situations, when things are not so calm or even just to take that fear factor away from the dressing room, who will teach Kohli to become a better version of himself?” he told PTI.
Can Bangalore arrest the slide as another season fades fast?