A win – literally a knockout – followed by another emphatic performance in the game, the contrast couldn’t be stronger. When it comes to bilateral series, India is the best team in all formats at home and away. But as far as major ICC events are concerned, the trophy cabinet has been empty since the 2013 Champions Trophy.
It is not that India is not making it to the later stages of major competitions. India regularly reach at least the semi-finals of these specific tournaments, but there seems to be a mental barrier or glass limit that they are not clearing. The big guns, who play a big part in the trade end in India and dominate all but the bilateral series when needed the most, as was the case against the Kiwis on Sunday.
Virat Kohli was the Player of the Tournament in the last two T20 World Cups but has failed in the 2015 50-over World Cup semi-final, 2017 Champions Trophy final, 2019 World Cup semi-final and the summit clash of the World Test Championship. Play the match defining innings.
Rohit Sharma has evolved into a multi-format legend over the years, and was scoring a century in the 2019 World Cup for fun, but that too could not take India over the line in knockout games.
It can be a harsh touch to point the finger at their relative failures in the later stages of big tournaments, where only the best teams are in action. But the top players solidify their legacy by counting in matches that count.
When it comes to the Indian team, there is always a collapse of the top order in the match which keeps them on the back foot. Some less charitable fans may be tempted to use the C-word, usually referring to South Africa, who are often flattered to cheat in major ICC tournaments despite being a prolific team.
Kohli scored 5 runs in the semi-finals of the 2015 and 2019 World Cups and one in the final of the 2017 Champions Trophy. This inspired several 1-5-1 memes on social media. Scores of 44 and 13 in the World Test Championship final against New Zealand did little to change the complexion of the competition.
Add to the list Sunday’s 9 off 17 balls and the casual fan could be forgiven for thinking the modern-day legend vanishes in a crisis situation.
The three above failures in a 50-over game have a common factor – left-arm speed. Mitchell Johnson, Mohammad Amir and Trent Boult were the winners for Kohli. It may be too much to say that he has a weakness against this style of bowling, but the angle associated with the movement can present a unique challenge to the batsmen.
In two of these three matches, Kohli came to the crease very early in the grind against the new ball and swung into action. In the 2015 World Cup semi-final, he attempted to pull off a well-directed short ball from Johnson.
It has to be mentioned here that Kohli always has the prize wicket for any opposition, especially when India are chasing – a scenario in which he has made a name for himself in limited-overs cricket. The captain usually employs his best people against him and the bowlers also work hard against Kohli, if it is really possible.
Rohit fails in crunch test
The Mumbai legend has become arguably the best cross-format opener in world cricket. His limited-overs batting took another level after cementing his place in the top order. He made his semi-final debuts in the 2015 World Cup (34) and the 2016 World T20 (43), but failed to play match-defining innings. Rohit did not last long in the 2017 Champions Trophy final (0) and the 2019 World Cup semi-final (1). He was on a century spree in the latter tournament before falling early in the knockout clash. An opener is always at risk of falling early with the new ball and the fresh bowlers at risk. But when he got set and got a chance to play a key role in a big match, Rohit stumbled.
leading lights go out
Kohli and Sharma have made permanent additions to the limited overs squad during this period. He has played such top-class cricket that the big games, which have consequences for him, don’t disturb him.
There is always expectation and pressure in playing for India and the top players are a big part of it. But his performance shows that this opportunity could be better than him.
It is true that bowlers also have a role to play. Jasprit Bumrah has been a regular feature and was taken to the cleaners in the 2016 World T20 semi-final and the final of the 2017 Champions Trophy. But he has been the banker and anchor of the attack over the years, with other personnel changing.
Starting with the 2013 Champions Trophy, India has reached at least the semi-finals of every major ICC event. But it is the last of these competitions when they managed to lift the silverware.
In big matches, big players are expected to make a difference, and they don’t come bigger than Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma. However, since the 2015 World Cup, both the legends have largely disappointed on the big occasion.
2015 world cup semifinals
Kohli: 1, Sharma 34
Australia had set a tough target of 329 runs, but on the strength of Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, India got off to a good start. Kohli came out with a score of 76/1 in the 13th over. But he succumbed to a bouncer from Mitchell Johnson in 13 balls. Sharma soon followed, leaving India at 91/3 in 18 overs.
2016 world t20 semi-finals
Kohli: 89 (47), Sharma 43 (31)
Kohli was in blazing form in the tournament, and continued the same way against West Indies. He and Dhoni set up the innings to flourish of late and the score of 192/2 looked formidable. But the power-hitters of the Caribbean made it completely unsatisfying.
Sharma gave India a good start but got out before doing anything special.
2017 Champions Trophy Final
Kohli: 5, Sharma 0
India were chasing a mammoth target of 339 runs, but came back early in the chase. Mohammad Amir trapped Sharma in the first over and dismissed Kohli in the third over.
2019 world cup semifinals
Kohli: 1, Sharma 1
India were set a modest target of 240 but were quickly shaken up by Matt Henry and Trent Boult. Henry caught Sharma behind while Kohli was lbw. Hardly anyone backed away from the score of 24/4.
2021 World Test Championship Final
Kohli: 44 and 13, Sharma 34 and 30
Many Indian batsmen started but failed to progress. As a result, India could only manage 217 and 170 runs. India were slightly lacking in the first innings, and the big guns could play match-defining knocks in the second essay. But he got out after spending time in the middle. Kohli was dismissed by Kyle Jamieson in both the innings, while Sharma succumbed to Jamieson in the first innings and Tim Southee in the second.