After a long wait, the Indian cricket team begin their World Cup 2019 journey with the game against South Africa at Southampton today, on the auspicious occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr. India, along with England and defending champions Australia, are being touted as the favourites to lift the World Cup trophy. And, there will be definite pressure on the side to perform, none more than on Virat Kohli who will be leading the team and will also be their batting trump card.
This World Cup will be Kohli’s third one, and arguably his best chance to lift the World Cup (for a second time). Back in 2011, he had just taken baby steps into international cricket, and yet made a significant contribution in the final, with a crucial 35. He began the 2015 World Cup in impressive fashion. However, his form petered away as the tournament progressed and ended in the worst possible manner as he was bounced out by Mitchell Johnson, struggling for his 1 from 13 balls. The stunned reaction of Anushka Sharma, to whom the cameras instantly zoomed, told the story.
For any cricketer to prove his worth, the World Cup is the biggest stage. Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards did it in the 70s, Kapil Dev did it in 1983, Aravinda de Silva in 1996 and Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist among other Aussies in the 2000s. The list goes on. For all the great records, Kohli’s career will have something missing if he doesn’t perform as a batsman and lead India to a World Cup. He has everything going for him – he is the undisputed number one batsman in the world, has scored runs all over the globe, and has a batting average to envy -- 59.57.
What will count though is how he performs in the World Cup, not only with the bat but also as leader. Knowing how dangerous Kohli can be, South Africa pacer Kagiso Rabada started the mind games calling the Indian captain ‘immature’ and someone unable to handle abuse. It is clearly an attempt to get on the nerves of Kohli. The Indian captain has already responded in words, saying he will talk to Rabada man-to-man, at the same time also taking the opportunity to praise the Proteas pacer. Even so, it would be interesting to see how Kohli responds on the field of play.
Undoubtedly, aggression is Kohli’s strength. But calmness is something that would be equally treasured in the big moments. South Africa have often faltered at the grand stage because they found the pressure too much to handle. The current Indian side is arguably the most blessed in terms of talent and temperament. But, there is still a job that needs to be done out in the middle. Favourites England recently found out against Pakistan that the strongest team doesn’t necessarily win, and India must take a lesson from the same. It is in these big moments that Kohli’s forte will be tested.
One of the reasons India won the 2011 World Cup was because MS Dhoni was able to take everything in his stride and remain unaffected, at least at the exterior. You won’t see the same with Kohli, who is his own man, and will definitely not back down from any verbal tussle out in the middle. The main challenge for him though would be to inspire the team and not overawe them. It would help Kohli that the calm Dhoni would be by his side. But, as the leader, this is Kohli’s greatest chance to leave his mark, and a legacy that would be etched forever in history.