At the moment, Virat Kohli is unstoppable. He could walk on water if he so wished it. He would do it and we wouldn’t be surprised. The opposition wouldn’t be surprised either.
The Indian skipper’s run over his last 26 ODIs showcases an astounding talent, one that would be impossible for a mere mortal to maintain: 123, 116, 44, 60, 43, 45, 46, 104, 3, 33*, 16, 107, 157*, 140, 71, 45, 75, 129*, 36, 75, 160*, 46*, 112, 113, 29, 121. Eleven centuries, four fifties, six forties, two thirties, one 29, one 16 and only one single-digit score. Incredible.
The Ranchi pitch was a surprise. There was uneven bounce. The spinners were getting the ball to grip, and the Australians put up a big total on board. These conditions would have pressured regular batsmen, but they only seem to bring out the best in the Indian skipper.
Another quick Shikhar Dhawan dismissal meant that Kohli had to once again stride out early. The left-hander, whose BCCI contract was downgraded to Grade A on Thursday, failed to keep the ball on the ground and Glenn Maxwell grabbed a good catch.
Now, Dhawan has always been a streaky player. When in form, he can pile on the runs (especially against Sri Lanka) but he can look pretty ordinary against Australia, England and New Zealand. Going into the World Cup, India would have liked him to be in the better frame of mind.
Still, nothing seems to disturb Kohli’s focus these days. This isn’t even a purple patch anymore. This is his career. He likes to meet the challenges head-on and that is precisely what he did on Friday. Somehow, not for the first time in his career, he managed to take the pitch and the opposition out of the equation.
The wagon wheel of his innings shows that he scored all around the park, against all bowlers. In essence, Kohli did what Kohli usually does.
The problem for India, though, was that the rest of the Indian batting line-up is not even remotely close to his level right now. Kohli scored 123 off 95 balls including 16 fours and a six. The next highest score for India was Vijay Shankar with 32. Over a period of time, Rohit Sharma comes closest but it seems like he, too, is being weighed down by Dhawan’s failures. Cricket, after all, is a game of partnerships.
A good stand, at the top of the order, would allow Kohli to come in a finish the match. Now, he comes in earlier and one wonders whether that might make him bat differently. Coach Ravi Shastri has already mentioned that the team is wondering about batting Kohli at No 4 during the World Cup. But given his record at No 3, should that even be a consideration.
For India In ODIs, At No.3:
Kohli - 34 100s in 165 innings
Others - 35 100s in 799 Innings
But while the No 4 slot (read Ambati Rayudu and everyone else who has batted there in the recent past) was a sore spot in the line-up but now we can add Shikhar Dhawan to the list of worries. India’s top-order collapses are becoming more frequent and while the team could once say that it had the best one-two-three punch in the game, now, the claim would fall flat.
In the post-match press conference, Kohli stressed that India’s priority for the final two games would be to arrest top-order collapses. The collapses have another side-effect. It may force India to give serious thought into including another proper batsman in the XI. All-rounders are fine when totals are around 250 and the top-order is firing. But the moment the totals go above 280 and the top-order is struggling, the problem is compounded.
Another batsman in the line-up will affect the balance that Kohli and Shastri have sought for a while now. And then, of course, the difficult question of who to drop. Essentially, the top-order collapses can open a can of worms. Perhaps, they already have.
It will be interesting to see how Dhawan does in the Indian Premier League and whether a poor run will further erode the confidence the Indian team management has in him. The same is true of Rayudu as well.
As great as Kohli’s innings was on Friday, it also showed India that he won’t always be able to win games on his own. Without a supporting cast, the trophy won’t be coming home.