Geez, that Virat Kohli, huh?
Bear with me as I state the obvious. It must be blooming great to have him on your side. It must fill you with such relief knowing that, despite the required run-rate creeping above 10, then 11, and then 12, that Kohli is still batting. When millions of fans chew their last bit of finger-nails out, you can afford to be quietly confident.
'Chill, our man V-Kohli has got this.'
It must be wonderful being Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Suresh Raina, when Kohli is batting with the assurance of Rafa Nadal on clay, Roger Federer on grass, Michael Schumacher on a wet race track.
So much so that you can have scores of 5, 10, 18 and 12 (Rohit), 1, 6, 23 and 13 (Dhawan), 1, 0, 30 and 10 (Raina) during the ongoing ICC World T20 and still end up being in the semi-final. That is an aggregate of 129 runs by those three players combined. Kohli, meanwhile, has made 184 runs in the four innings he has played, winning two Man-of-the-Match awards on the way.
These three batsmen must be grateful for whoever coined the cricketing adage — 'do not change a winning combination'.
For instance, consider the other three teams in the semi-finals of this World T20. West Indies have got Chris Gayle (and an exciting back-up in Andre Fletcher), New Zealand have got Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson (they of the most number of 50+ opening partnerships in T20Is), England have got Jason Roy (the man who has a strike rate of 136 in World T20). All these teams have opening batsmen in such good touch that they can take the game away from the opponents in the powerplay.
Against Australia in Mohali, the story was the same. By the time you read this, you would have read tens of articles describing Kohli's magisterial 51-ball 82 that took India into the semi-final. But with Kohli performing the one-man rescue act time and again, captain MS Dhoni must be worried about the rest of the batsmen. When a hobbling Yuvraj Singh — who could barely manage to complete a single even when the ball was hit in the deep — ends up with the second-highest total on a day India had to chase 161 on a difficult Mohali pitch, it tells a lot about the batsmen who preceded him.
But for Kohli, India could have lost in Mohali just because Australia managed to get off to a good start in their powerplay — 59 runs in the six overs. India, on the other hand, made 37/2 with both openers back in the pavilion to grab their popcorn buckets and enjoy the Kohli show — metaphorically, of course.
India's batting powerplays have been schizophrenic in this tournament so far, to put it mildly. When the pitch was quite unplayable in Nagpur and Eden, the openers went for fancy shots and perished. When the pitch was more neutral in Bangalore, Rohit went for a big shot in an over where two sixes had already been hit. And on a good surface in Mohali, the result was not much different either. India have not managed to get past a single powerplay in this tournament so far without losing at least a wicket. And do not get us started on Raina and his inability to handle bouncers, we'll be here all day.
It would also have been so different had the Indian bowlers not staged a remarkable fightback to restrict *THAT* Australia batting line-up to 160 after the start they got. Ashish Nehra, Ravindra Jadeja, Jasprit Bumrah, Yuvraj and to a lesser extent, Hardik Pandya, were nothing short of fantastic on a night which started eerily similar to the 2003 ODI World Cup final. India's best bowler Ravichandran Ashwin had a rare off-day, going for 31 runs in 2 overs. The rest of the pack duly stepped in to pick up his slack.
That is exactly what is missing with the Indian batting line-up at the moment.
Dhoni admitted after the match that the batting form is worrying.
"Kohli's been playing brilliantly for the last few years now. He has kept improving his game, he is very hungry to score runs for the team. But others have to step up now, we can't keep relying on him, the others are contributing but our batting is at 60-65% now, barring Kohli."
Forget the Sachin Tendulkar-Virat Kohli comparisons for a minute. During the days of India being an one-man team in the 90s, Tendulkar was surrounded by players like Manoj Prabhakar, Ajay Jadeja, Nayan Mongia, Navjot Singh Sidhu to name a few — none of them significantly more talented than the likes of Rohit, Dhawan or Raina. There was merit to that Indian team being an one-man army, before Ganguly, Sehwag, Dravid et al came along.
Kohli, with the players surrounding him, shouldn't have to chase these scores down alone, as much as he is enjoying doing it, revelling in being the chase-master. India's top-order really must be doing more to help Kohli out.
This Indian team does not have to be a one-man team, but they are doing their utter best to be branded as one.