IPL 2021: Kohli has a fight on his hands against Dhoni's CSK

Ayaz Memon/Mumbai
Filed on September 24, 2021 | Last updated on September 24, 2021 at 12.52 am
Royal Challengers Bangalore captain Virat Kohli. (AFP)

RCB will face Chennai today in Sharjah (6 pm UAE Time)

Two towering Indian players of the last 10-12 years — MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli — square off in Friday’s match at Sharjah which has more dimensions to it than a mere Indian Premier League game.

Dhoni, having retired from international cricket last year, returns to the Indian dug-out as a mentor for the team during the T20 World Cup that follows the IPL.

Kohli, of course, is captain of the team, but for the last time, having decided to step down from that position in this format.

That both have enjoyed a terrific relation does not mean that there will be any let-up in intensity to win. Both have a point to prove apart from a match to win. Kohli perhaps even more so.

Dhoni’s credentials as captain in white-ball cricket are excellent. If he leads CSK to another title, it’s another feather in his cap which also negate the scepticism of whether a mentor for the Indian team in the T20 World Cup is superfluous.

The scrutiny on Kohli, however, is harsher. Not winning an ICC or IPL title has been touted as the reason why Indian cricket needed a change in leadership in white-ball cricket. Kohli has the opportunity for both over the next eight weeks. But it’s going to be tough.

The past few months haven’t been too kind to him as a batsman. In the Tests played on the tour of England, Kohli was in middling form, scoring some impressive half-centuries but not getting the big scores which he would churn out consistently in the past.

The decision to relinquish the India T20 and IPL captaincy was targeted at rediscovering his best batting touch. However, there is no exemption from the workload which Kohli had mentioned as the main reason for the decision just yet.

This IPL season he is still captaining RCB and the opening match of phase 2 of the tournament against KKR was extremely ungratifying for him as batsman and captain, what with a single-digit personal score, and the team being bowled out for a paltry 92.

Of the matches played so far in this phase, RCB’s batting performance was the worst, giving the bowlers no scope to turn things around. The failure was collective, but as always happens, the captain cops most of the flak.

That defeat hurt RCB badly, in terms of points and net run rate and another setback could well see them bumped out of the top four in the points table. A quick regimentation of players and inspired performances by major players like Kohli, AB de Villiers, Glenn Maxwell, Yuzvendra Chahal, Mohammed Siraj are badly needed.

CSK, currently number 2 in the points table, are comfortably placed in comparison. They also bat deep and have greater variety in bowling. But CSK’s batting travails against Mumbai Indians in the opening match cannot be glossed over.

Reduced to 24-4 in the powerplay, CSK rose to 156 on the back of a marvellous effort by Ruturaj Gaikwad and lower-order batsmen. But Dhoni’s vast experience will tell him that such astounding recoveries are not commonplace. His top order will have to do better if the winning momentum has to be sustained.

Ayaz Memon is an Indian sports writer and commentator

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