India is the only team in this World Cup other than Australia to enjoy the presence of players who have previously basked in the crowning glory of ODI cricket. Between the former captain who lifted the Cup in 2011, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and Virat Kohli, the current skipper, there should be no scarcity for inspiration for the Men in Blue.
Now playing his third World Cup, Kohli was still a rookie 8 years ago, about four years old in international cricket, and widely touted to be the successor to Sachin Tendulkar's genius, when the latter successfully ended his 19-year World Cup drought. Today, Kohli comes into the tournament as the closest thing to the Don Bradman of contemporary cricket (with due respect to Steve Smith, whose limited overs record is not anywhere close to as prolific as Kohli's), at the helm of one of the hot favourites to win the Cup.
However, as is the case with great players, irrespective of what sport it is, fans always expect them to perform through the roof on the big stage. One only has to look to football and the repeated 'disappointments' from Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in their failure to replicate their professional brilliance onto world Cup campaigns to imagine how painful that gap can be.
Despite his phenomenal career, which can be safely said to be on the upcurve, Kohli has not exactly set the quadrennial event on fire yet. His aggregate score from the last two appearances is 587 in 17 outings, at an average of 41.93 and a strike rate of 81.87, which are way too sub-par in comparison to his career average and strike rate, at a staggering 59.47 and 92.93, respectively.
To be fair to him, the latter numbers have been bolstered by a beastly purple patch between the 2015 and 2019 editions of the World Cup, where he has scored 4306 runs in 69 innings, at an average of 78.29 and a strike rate of 98.33. But a comparison of his World Cup figures with his performance in the lead up to each of the previous editions he has featured in might suggest a vulnerable temperament when it comes to the premier occasion.
In the period between his debut and the commencement of the 2011 World Cup, Kohli had returned 1672 runs in 42 innings, at an average of 46.44. He followed this up with a total of 282 runs, featuring a century and a half-century, in 9 innings at the tournament, at an average of 35.25.
Between the 2011 and 2015 World Cups, Kohli scored 4278 runs at an average of 55.55 in 91 innings. By his standards, his returns in the 2015 edition were modest, with 305 runs in 8 innings, at an average of 50.83 and a solitary ton in the opening game versus Pakistan, with the next best of 44 not out against Ireland.
This time, though, there is enough reason to hope for a turnaround.
The Virat Kohli of today is a seasoned campaigner, and his batting has flourished exponentially ever since he has been endowed with the responsibility of leading the team. Will the real Virat Kohli then stand up and own the biggest stage in world cricket as he should? The answer lies in the month and half of what promises to be a breathless exhibition of cricketing aura, skills, and endurance.
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