There has been speculation that Virat Kohli may retire from T20I cricket after the World Cup in Australia.
For some Indian fans, the fact that the prediction has been made by two former Pakistan players, Shahid Afridi and Shoaib Akhtar, devalues its validity. However, there are sound reasons to believe there may be some truth in it, as top-level cricketers in general are having to battle with the increasingly crowded calendar, and the competing demands of international and franchise cricket.
Kohli would not be the first player to decide that something has to give, with Ben Stokes and Trent Boult two men who have come to that conclusion in recent months.
What Afridi said
Afridi in a recent interview was full of praise for what Kohli has achieved in his career, but also believes that he will prefer to go out on a high rather than continue to perform when he is past his best.
And, with the former Indian captain continuing to play all three formats of the sport, it is only a matter of time before he chooses to sacrifice one in favour of the others.
Akhtar echoes his comments
Former Pakistan pacemen Akhtar has echoed Afridi’s comments, believing that the conclusion of the World Cup may be the right moment for Kohli to retire from T20I cricket in order to extend his longevity in the other formats of the game.
Kohli’s recent struggles
It is indisputable that Kohli has been through a sustained lean patch in recent years, which may be attributable to a number of factors.
First of all, the relentless pressure of being captain, arguably one of the toughest sports jobs in the world. Compounding this is the fact that he is part of a celebrity couple with Bollywood actress wife Anushka Sharma, meaning that the pair are under constant scrutiny, living life in a goldfish bowl.
And then there was the period of the pandemic, which posed physical and mental health challenges to all players, forcing them to live and train in bio-secure bubbles, isolated from friends, family, and, to a large extent each other, for months on end.
And that also paid havoc with the cricket calendar, with matches that were cancelled then now having to be shoe-horned into the schedule as organisers try to clear the backlog. Already many commentators are warning that there is a real risk of player burn-out on a mass scale.
It was not only his international form that suffered either. Normally one of the stand-out performers in the Indian T20 league, he had a poor season by his own high standards for the Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2022leading some toquestion whether he was even worth his place in the World Cup squad at all. Such a view would once have been regarded as heresy.
Return to form at the Asia Cup
However, after relinquishing the captaincy and taking several months off in the summer, there have been signs that Kohli may be returning to form and was one of the plus points to emerge from their otherwise disappointing Asia Cup campaign.
In their final match against Afghanistan he made an unbeaten 122, his first century in any format of the game for nearly three years. He will be looking to continue that form into the forthcoming series against Australia and South Africa, and into the World Cup itself.
Kohli’s T20I career
Although that century in Dubai was his 71st in all, it was actually his first in T20I cricket.
To date, he has played 104 T20I matches for his country, scoring 3,584 wins at an average of 51.94, and has also made 32 fifties in the format. Only an occasional bowler, he also has four wickets to his name.
Should he retire from T20I cricket?
Still only 33 years of age, Kohli arguably has three or four years at the top left if he wants to go on playing that long. Whilst there is undoubtedly great honour playing for India, he may just find, like so many now, that all three formats are unsustainable, and that he needs to concentrate his efforts.
Much may depend on how well India actually do in the World Cup. If they go on to win it, he may feel that he has nothing left to prove, and that this is a good time to retire from the format.
On the other hand, if they fall short, then there may be a temptation to try and hold on four more years when the tournament is held on Indian soil. Bowing out in front of the home fans might be a fitting way to head into the sunset.
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