Virat Kohli’s quest to break the IPL title jinx for Royal Challengers Bangalore was shattered yet again as his side lost in the eliminator against Kolkata Knight Riders in what was his final match as IPL captain.
When Shakib Al Hasan dug out a yorker from Dan Christian to complete the single, the curtains came down. Yet again, the familiar feeling dawned upon a lot of fans. Royal Challengers Bangalore, a side that had always threatened to be the top dog side of the IPL, once again fell short at a crucial interval. For the second consecutive IPL, they were eliminated in the Eliminator. One could not escape the pain, mixed with sorrow and relief on Virat Kohli’s face as he spoke in the post-match presentation. Now, in the aftermath, the post-mortems have all begun.
Normally, a captain’s legacy is defined by the number of major trophies that he has won in competitive tournaments. In the case of Virat Kohli, the legacy is not painting a pretty picture. For close to a decade, Virat Kohli has been the captain of the Royal Challengers Bangalore side. In that period, the numbers he has accumulated as a player are staggering. But, for the franchise, it has been limited.
Imagine, apart from Kohli, the franchise had the services of AB de Villiers and Chris Gayle. Both de Villiers and Gayle are masters of the T20 format. One is a sheer magician with his 360-degree variety of strokes in any condition. The other is a brute who could decimate bowling attacks with regular intensity. Throw in Kohli and add the likes of Tillakaratne Dilshan and KL Rahul in the mix and their batting was lethal.
However, Royal Challengers Bangalore suffered from a tendency to depend on certain key players. If the batting was brilliant, then the bowling let the side down. With one aspect always in danger of letting them down, Kohli and RCB were always on thin ice. When the long-term assurance is gone, then it all boils down to luck. This would be the story in the Gayle-Kohli-de Villiers era.
Chris Gayle hit 733 runs in the 2012 edition. Yet, because they were so poor with the ball, they did not end up in the knock-out stages. The same would be repeated in 2013 as they missed out on knock-out qualification despite Gayle, Kohli, and de Villiers firing.
Perhaps, the best chance for Virat Kohli to end the IPL title break as captain probably came in 2016. It was a freakish IPL, with records being broken regularly. In addition, perhaps Royal Challengers Bangalore were aided by the absence of Chennai Super Kings. They were a side that regularly got the better of RCB in both home and away conditions.
But, in 2016, Kohli gave a whole new dimension to his batting. He smashed 973 runs which included four centuries. Royal Challengers Bangalore had entered the final against an unfancied Sunrisers Hyderabad side. It seemed like the pain of 2009 and 2011 would be eliminated. It was a campaign that saw Kohli unleash a tour-de-force upon every opposition. Luck also was with RCB. They benefited from a ‘Lagaan’ moment against the same opponents in the league stages. In Qualifier 1, they were rescued by the brilliance of de Villiers. Everything was coming into place.
But, in the final, the bowling let them down. Sunrisers Hyderabad scored in excess of 200. But, perhaps, lady luck would smile on Kohli yet again. He and Gayle managed to put RCB on course for a memorable win. It seemed that the thousands of fans in attendance at the M Chinnaswamy stadium would finally get to see their team lift the trophy.
But, at a crucial moment, Kohli fell short of the 1000-run mark. The batting, which was reliant on the top three of Gayle, Kohli, and de Villiers, succumbed to the scoreboard pressure. RCB lost the final by eight runs and Sunrisers Hyderabad won the title. It was perhaps the ultimate heartbreak for Kohli and he was never the same again.
The loss of 2016 seemed to have had a massive impact on RCB’s psyche. They finished eighth in the 2017 and 2019 editions of the tournament. In 2018, they finished sixth. Apart from one spectacular exhibition, they never threatened the playoffs. Perhaps, this is why the latest revelation of Kohli dropping the RCB captaincy in 2019 itself emerged.
In 2020, amidst the pandemic, RCB had prepared well. It seemed their batting and bowling departments were sorted. But, the mental pressure to maintain the momentum simply did not come for RCB. They lost matches at crucial intervals and heading into the playoffs, they were in a slump. That slump cost them and they were eliminated in the Eliminator.
Even in 2021, the tactics of Kohli baffled many. On a spin-friendly deck, why did he bowl Dan Christian and not give Shahbaz Ahmed, the left-arm pacer a go? In fact, if memory served Kohli right, it was Shahbaz’s haul of 3/7 who gave RCB a tense six-run win against Sunrisers when the league stages were being held in India. The tactics of Kohli, on the given day, unfortunately, missed the mark.
60 wins out of 140 with 70 losses. No IPL titles. Two wooden spoons with only two knock-out appearances in a nine-year period. It would be easy to label Kohli’s legacy as a captain in the IPL as failed. But, as a player, one cannot fault his dedication and brilliance as a player. The only player crossing 6000 runs for just one franchise. Plus, he has committed to be in that franchise until his final days as a player. RCB has seen him dominate the batting charts from 2016 till 2019.
But, as captain, the verdict might be split. Apart from the IPL, the lack of ICC trophies is also beginning to hurt Kohli. He missed the 2017 Champions Trophy title and in 2019, they were eliminated in the semi-finals. The 2021 ICC World T20 gives him another chance to get another ICC trophy. Perhaps, the 2023 ICC World Cup will be his last chance to get one trophy in his cabinet as captain of the Indian cricket team. But until then, Virat Kohli’s legacy will be like a King but without a Kingdom. He could not change his IPL fortunes. Perhaps, the India fortunes might change.