IPL 2024: A Virat Kohli special and need to build on the momentum | Crickit
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IPL 2024: A Virat Kohli special and need to build on the momentum

By, Mumbai
Mar 26, 2024 08:25 PM IST

Against PBKS, he lashed 77 at a strike-rate of 157.14, which was better than every batter in the match who faced more than 10 balls

If we’re being overly critical, it probably wasn’t a flawless knock even if the two dropped catches are discounted. Off the first 15 balls Virat Kohli faced against Punjab Kings on Monday, he scored 33 runs with eight fours. Over the next 11 overs, he got just 34 off 29 and left Royal Challengers Bengaluru needing 59 to win from five overs.

Royal Challengers Bengaluru's Virat Kohli plays a shot during the match against Punjab Kings in the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2024, at M.Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on Monday (ANI )
Royal Challengers Bengaluru's Virat Kohli plays a shot during the match against Punjab Kings in the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2024, at M.Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on Monday (ANI )

There was an all too familiar slowdown after the powerplay as he relied more on aggressive singles and twos. But look closer and you realise that overall, on an atypically two-paced Bengaluru pitch, he played the situation well. He toughed it out when wickets kept falling at the other end, became the first Indian to register 100 T20 half-centuries, and helped RCB bag their first points of the season.

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After the game, Kohli summed it up best when he said, “I’ve still got it, I guess.” Not just a big name but his big game too is intact, he emphasised. With IPL, the 35-year-old has made a comeback to competitive cricket after a two-month break. In the first match of the season against Chennai Super Kings, he only managed a 20-ball 21.

But against PBKS, he was close to his best and returned a better strike-rate (157.14) than every other batter in the match who faced more than 10 deliveries. More importantly, he served a reminder that he stays in contention for the T20 World Cup in June, which will begin a week after IPL 2024 ends.

With RCB set a target of 177, the Chinnaswamy Stadium faithful were treated to a vintage Kohli run chase. He has been one of the finest exponents of the cover drive and on Monday he showcased a devastating version of it. As the Punjab pacers tried to exploit the grassy patches on the surface by bowling short of a length, he kept stepping down and driving the ball on the rise through the cover region.

As is usually the case with Kohli, there were no slogs. It was simply a masterclass on playing to your strengths. “Well, I mean you have to make additions to your game,” said Kohli after picking up the Player-of-the-Match award for his 49-ball 77.

"People know I play the cover drive pretty well so they're not going to allow me to hit gaps and with guys like KG (Kagiso Rabada) and Arshdeep (Singh) as well, he's tall. So, if they're hitting length, you have to create some momentum. And once you're closer to the ball, you kind of negate the bounce that's going to happen. You meet it earlier. You have to come up with a game plan here and there and try to keep improving your game.”

Fight for a spot

More than anyone else, Kohli’s latest exploits would’ve been reassuring for himself if he aims to keep playing for India in the shortest format. Since India’s 10-wicket semi-final loss to England at the last T20 World Cup in November 2022, he has featured in just two of the 28 T20Is India have played – against Afghanistan in January where he fell for a first-ball duck and then got a 16-ball 29.

When he’s in the mood, like against PBKS, Kohli can look a class apart. And the experience he brings in crunch situations, like he famously did against Pakistan in the last T20 World Cup, is invaluable. But the fact remains that for over the past year or so, the fight for spots in India’s T20I batting order has got a lot more intense.

With Rohit Sharma all but sure to captain and open the innings, Yashasvi Jaiswal’s stocks rising rapidly and Shubman Gill continuing to mature, there are plenty of strong options for the top order. The race to fill the middle order is even tighter with Suryakumar Yadav, Hardik Pandya, Rinku Singh, KL Rahul, Shivam Dube, Shreyas Iyer, Sanju Samson and Tilak Varma in the mix for now.

Last year in IPL, Kohli scored an impressive 639 runs at a strike-rate of 139.82. If he can replicate that performance this season, he should be in a promising position to make it to the T20 World Cup. But to edge out the competition and guarantee himself a spot, as India aim to play a bolder brand of cricket, he may have to constantly step up the aggression.

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