Former India captain Virat Kohli is being rested for the current T20I series against South Africa. However, there are some who believe what would have seemed unthinkable only a few years ago – that he would not have made the squad anyway based on current form if available.
What has gone wrong for the previous golden boy of Indian cricket?
The run machine
Kohli’s statistics are those that would make anybody proud. In 101 tests for his country, he has scored more than 8,000 runs, including 27 centuries and 28 fifties.
His figures in ODIs are even more impressive arguably – 260 matches, 42 centuries and 64 fifties, and, whilst he has never made three figures in T20I cricket, he still has 30 fifties in that format of the game.
At one stage he was the top ranked batter in all forms of international cricket according to the ICC.
He also holds the record for the most runs scored in a single IPL season – the 973 that he scored for the Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2016. He scored four centuries that year for his franchise, a record that Jos Buttler has recently equalled.
By any measure, at his best Virat Kohli was a run machine.
However, it has been more than three years since Kohli scored a century in any format of the game and in more than 100 innings.
And, he had another disappointing season in the IPL, where, until this season, he had been the highest paid player. Despite being retained by the Royal Challengers Bangalore for INR 15 crore, he scored only 341 runs in total, 73 of which came in one innings. Take that out of the equation, and his contribution to the team was distinctly underwhelming.
In the past year, Virat Kohli has given up the Indian captaincy in all three formats of the game. And he also quit as skipper of the Royal Challengers Bangalore, the franchise he had led since 2013. That was meant to free him of some of the multiple burdens that he carried on his shoulders, and leave him free to concentrate on his batting.
So far it has failed to produce the desired response.
What has gone wrong?
It is hard to underestimate the constant pressure that Kohli finds him under.
In a country as cricket obsessed as India the demand to always do well is constant and incessant. Every mistake is endlessly scrutinised and debated, and for many players it is like living in a goldfish bowl.
In addition, he is part of a celebrity couple, with actress wife Anushka Sharma, which means that their private lives are the subject of endless fascination, not only for the sporting press, but by those obsessed with popular culture.
It is very difficult to be normal when you are always in the spotlight.
The impact of the pandemic and the subsequent requirement for players to isolate in bio-secure bubbles for months on end should not be overlooked. That has resulted in many more players taking mental health breaks from the sport – Ben Stokes, Glenn Maxwell and Quinton de Kock are just three international examples of players who have had to take time out.
The isolation of being confined to a hotel room for weeks on end, allowed out only to practice and train, should not be underestimated.
The burdens of cricket
For top cricketers like Kohli, cricket has become almost a 365 day a year sport. What with the international series and the demands of the IPL, there is very little downtime nowadays.
Undoubtedly this is driven by money and cricket is not the only sport where excessive demands are being placed on layers. Top level football, tennis, and rugby have also seen warnings of player burn-out as once precious rest periods are constantly eroded as more fixtures and tournaments are added to the calendar.
It is inevitable that, placed under such constant strain, both the mind and the body begin to break down.
Can he come back?
There is an old adage that form is temporary, class is permanent and undoubtedly, Kohli is one of the best batters of his generation.
Dips in form can happen, even to the best. Brian Lara, for example, once went two years without scoring a test hundred in the middle of his careers, whilst Sachin Tendulkar had similar travails in his career at around the same age as Kohli is now.
He can come back, and prove that he is undoubtedly one of the best batters that his country has ever produced. But he needs to have the courage to take a long, interrupted break from the sport, and to try and adopt a lower profile for a while.
It will only take one good innings and the confidence will start to come back.
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