By the time Virat Kohli announced that this would be his last assignment as captain of his country’s T20, the overall Indian World Cup narrative has reassembled. A linear scenario of whether he would bow out to a meteoric peak, with an elusive ICC trophy in his list of honors, or the only peak without a ladder in his career would go unscaled.
It is difficult that his courage as a leader in white ball cricket is weighed solely on the number of titles he has not won, or that he has narrowly lost than on the identity he has. forged for himself and the team.
Two appearances in the semi-finals and two finals lost in so many ICC tournaments are not, far from it, outright failures. Except in India obsessed with trophies and obsessed with world domination. The country is more intolerant of chess (that of sportsmen) than ever. Their dreams are bigger and their ambitions wider than ever. A series away win here, or reaching the bottom four there, would no longer satisfy the ambitious, ambitious (and sometimes greedy, too) India.
Empowered, enlightened, wealthy, they want the country to dominate cricket like Australia for much of this century or the West Indies last century.
At various points in Kohli’s reign, India did indeed dominate all formats of the game, but without a glittering piece of silverware as proof of their success.
An opportunity that fulfills destiny awaits India over the next three weeks. In each of the last four ICC tournaments, from the 2017 Champions Trophy to the World Test Champions, India had worn the label of favorite despite faults and flaws. Almost flawless.
In the ODI, they worried about the average order, in Test, they agitated on their balance. But here they came down with the most perfect, or least imperfect, of their teams in an ICC event. This time they are the most favorites than all the other favorites.
More could not have been said about the team when IPL’s journey to UAE began. The form of Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan was a concern, but now that the two have relaunched their touch towards the end of the tournament, India has an explosive and versatile hitting team. The fact that four of the top five are regulars in the crossover format illustrates the multidimensionality of their hitter. The fifth, Yadav, could also join the group in the not-so-distant future.
Destructive lower order
Hardik Pandya has shown that the prolonged absence from regular international cricket has not diminished his game-killing prowess. However, he will have to share some of his heavy artillery batting teams with Rishabh Pant and Ravindra Jadeja, making India’s lower-middle order the most destructive in recent times. If Pandya started bowling, as is planned in the later stages, India would become even more fierce.
The highlight is, without question, their top three Beatles, the deadliest triumvirate in T20 cricket. If they hit the straps, which is regular, a top class batting treat awaits. Two of cricket’s most non-violent hitters, Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul, arguably followed by the best batsman of his time, Kohli.
Sharma had an uneven IPL, Kohli was erratic, but it would be foolish not to bet on those stacking runs. The magnitude of the tournament would be just the fuel that would propel the Ferraris of modern cricket into race mode. If their batsmen are racing cars waiting for rumble, their fast bowlers are thoroughbreds eager to gallop.
Bumrah the spearhead
If IPL is a trailblazer, Jasprit Bumrah’s verve should have drummers worried, even before they get into his staid eight-step swing. He can make at least half a dozen avatars – spearhead, calm head, bully, executor, new-ball virtuoso, Yorker-spitting machine. Under the giant shadow that it casts, it is advisable to give up those in the shadows. But Mohammed Shami, with his ability to straddle lengths and mastery of short balls, is a dangerously underrated bowler in this format.
After years of struggling to crack the T20 code, it has been strumming high notes for the past three years. Combine them with one of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Shardul Thakur – in most other teams both would be clear starters – there’s a dazzling mix of muscle and music, depth and deception.
Wealth of spin talents
Their depth is only pale by the riches of the spin department of India. Whether India could afford to ignore Yuzvendra Chahal and Axar Patel, let alone Ravi Bishnoi, would be difficult for most teams to understand. Jadeja’s cunning, Varun Chakravarthy’s mystery, Ravi Ashwin’s mastery, and Rahul Chahar’s devilry could confuse not only batsmen but also team selectors. If the pitches tend to be low and sluggish like they had been in the IPL, Kohli could trigger all three. All four could exploit even a little assistance from the field, but what makes them even more dangerous is that all four also take the field out of the equation.
The team is so multifaceted that it could flourish anywhere in the world. Besides skills, the team has other conditions to triumph, such as their unwavering spirit and undying courage.
The only flip side to this concoction of skill and wit is that if they don’t win the World Cup it would be considered a complete failure. Or another spot in Kohli’s captain’s book. A peak that remains without a scale. The overall tale of Kohli’s last assignment as captain of the T20.