As yet another promising start at the Home of Cricket in London came to a premature end, the question marks over Virat Kohli’s batting remain. It’s now been two years since he last reached three figures at the highest level. The slump is worrying, and is brought into sharp focus by the sparkling form that his opposite number is exhibiting. Joe Root is, quite literally scoring runs for fun.
Add to that the disappointment of losing the World Test Championship to New Zealand, and it is unsurprising that some are questioning his wider role and asking whether it is time for a change of leadership. Yet Kohli is the most successful India captain in history, and he still has plenty of support, some of which is coming from unexpected directions.
Akmal speaks out
India and Pakistan’s cricket rivalry is the stuff of legends. So when Kamran Akmal speaks out in praise of Virat Kohli, it means a great deal. Akmal was discussing Kohli on a recent YouTube video and described his long-time rival as “an amazing player, an amazing captain.” He cited India’s unprecedented win rate across all formats of the game during the Kohli era and the fact that under him, the team has held the number one test ranking for five years.
It’s a level of domination that draws comparisons with the great West Indies team of the 1980s, or the Australians a decade later. Akmal, in his typically forthright style, said that those calling for a change of captaincy “have no idea about cricket” and “have not even led a gully team.”
The biggest stage
Akmal is right in as much as Kohli’s statistics, and those of India under his leadership, are head and shoulders above all others. The team has won 16 of the 20 series contested under Kohli, compared with 12 out of 23 under the great MS Dhoni. But still, it is performing on the biggest stages of all that has been the one weakness in recent years.
The forthcoming T20I World Cup could either put that exception to bed once and for all or give it additional credence. The major sports betting sites will soon be focusing on the cricket again after the distraction of a new European football season getting underway, and India are warm favourites to lift the trophy. The fact that they are not red hot favourites is all about the team’s recent history on the biggest stages.
India won the inaugural T20 World Cup 14 years ago, but have only made one final since, losing to Sri Lanka. Likewise in the 50 over game, it’s been a decade since Dhoni’s men won it for Sachin and the team underperformed in 2015 and 2019 under Kohli.
There is always huge pressure on every team in a major ICC tournament. But that is doubled in the case of Kohli this year. Akmal might have been a rival in the middle, but that only means he speaks with sincerity when he says he believes Kohli will be unaffected by it all and is still the best man to lead India to victory on any stage.