Can India win the ICC T20 World Cup 2024 final for Virat ‘King’ Kohli?

An Indian win in the final may be the perfect gift to Virat Kohli as he stands at the twilight of his World Cup career.

Virat Kohli will look to relive the triumphant moments of India's ICC Cricket World Cup win in 2011 when his side meets South Africa in the T20 World Cup 2024 final [File: Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

Bridgetown, Barbados – April Fool’s Day had come and gone. On April 2, 2011, a young and chubby star of Indian cricket uttered his most famous words on a glorious night for his country.

The then 22-year-old Virat Kohli carried the country’s most famous cricketing son – Sachin Tendulkar – on his shoulders after India won its second Cricket World Cup title and as the players took in the thunderous applause in a lap of honour at the iconic Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai.

“Sachin Tendulkar has carried Indian cricket on his shoulders for 21 years,” said Kohli. “So, it was fitting that we carried him on our shoulders after this win.”

Of all the words uttered by Kohli – and there have been many – these have lingered on over his 15-year career.

It was a declaration by India’s new hero in veneration of his predecessor.

No one has come close to reaching the deified air of the “Little Master” other than the man now known as “King Kohli”. And maybe no one ever will.

But such reverence comes with expectation. And after more than a decade of astounding feats in both 50-over and T20 World Cups, Kohli finds himself in unfamiliar territory.

India are in the final of a World Cup and their superstar darling is short of runs. Have India been carrying Kohli through this ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, all the way through to the final?

He has scored just 75 runs in seven innings, including two ducks, and has been overshadowed by every other member of India’s top-order batters.

India's Harbhajan Singh (2nd L), Sachin Tendulkar (C) and Virat Kohli (2nd R) hold the ICC Cricket World Cup trophy 2011 after they beat Sri Lanka in the ICC Cricket World Cup final match in Mumbai April 2, 2011. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash (INDIA - Tags: SPORT CRICKET)
Virat Kohli (second right) lifted the ICC Cricket World Cup trophy with his hero Sachin Tendulkar (centre) in Mumbai in 2011[File: Vivek Prakash/Reuters]

‘Form is temporary, class is permanent’

It’s a far cry from his feats in other World Cups in the past decade, in which India have failed to climb the summer despite Kohli’s individual heroics dragging them to the knockouts.

He was the tournament’s top-run scorer (319 runs) the last time India played a T20 World Cup final in 2014 but India fell short and Sri Lanka lifted the trophy.

Kohli also led the batting charts (765 runs) six months ago, when India stormed to a home 50-over World Cup final but walked away with broken hearts as Australia won their sixth title.

Tendulkar is the only batter to have scored more runs than Kohli in 50-over World Cups, with 2,278 runs over Kohli’s 1,795. And no one has scored more than Kohli’s 1,216 runs in the T20 version of the tournament, although Rohit Sharma, currently on 1211, may overtake him at Kensington Oval in Saturday’s final against South Africa.

There have been many memorable innings. The 82 not out in the 2016 T20 World Cup against Australia, holding India’s innings together when India were in trouble in Mohali, or the century against Bangladesh in Mirpur in 2011.

There was another century against Pakistan in 2015.

And hundreds in 2023 against Bangladesh in Pune and in Kolkata when facing South Africa. In the same tournament, he broke his hero Tendulkar’s record of 49 ODI centuries in the semifinal against New Zealand in Mumbai.

And who could forget his undefeated on 82 off 53 deliveries against Pakistan in 2022? That checked drive for a six at the MCG is forever etched in cricket fans’ collective memories.

Kohli’s World Cup record is astounding, perhaps never to be bettered. No wonder his lean returns in this year’s tournaments have been softened by those around him.

“Virat is a marquee player for us, there’s no denying that,” India’s coach Rahul Dravid said during his news conference in Guyana before India left for the Barbados final.

“He’s been through a rough patch, but we all know the kind of class he brings to the table. Form is temporary, but class is permanent. I have no doubt that he will rise to the occasion when it counts the most.”

India's Virat Kohli reacts as he walks off the field after losing his wicket during the ICC Men's T20 World Cup cricket match between United States and India at the Nassau County International Cricket Stadium in Westbury, New York, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
Virat Kohli has not featured among India’s top run scorers in the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2024 [Adam Hunger/AP]

‘Huge contribution from Virat’

Former India batter Deep Dasgupta believes the acceptance of Kohli’s modest scores while adopting the team’s aggressive batting approach in this tournament reflects a change in the national cricketing psyche.

“I think that’s the difference between India in the past and India this tournament,” Dasgupta told Al Jazeera on the eve of the final.

“He hasn’t scored as many runs as people would want him to, but we in India, are so obsessed about individual numbers, 50s, 100s and averages.

The former India opening batter believes Kohli’s contributions to Indian cricket go far beyond the numbers and the supremely fit 35-year-old has changed the country’s cricket culture.

“There has been a huge contribution from Virat to say, ‘You know what? It’s not about what an individual does, but it’s what a team does’.”

Dasgupta believes Kohli deserves more credit than he’s been given.

“We undermine that contribution from Virat, even though he might not have got as many runs, but the way that he’s batting is exactly what he and the team wants.”

India’s captain and Kohli’s longtime opening partner Rohit Sharma has talked up Kohli’s importance to the side on countless occasions during the tournament.

“Virat is a quality player. Any player can go through that [the lack of runs] but we do understand his class and his importance in all these big games,” Rohit said, after India’s semifinal win over England on Thursday.

“Form is never a problem when you have played cricket for 15 years. He is looking good, the intent is there and he is probably saving it for the final.”

And if India lift the trophy at Kensington Oval, perhaps it would be fitting if Kohli – no matter how many runs he scores – finds himself performing a lap of honour on the shoulders of others, 13 years on from lifting Tendulkar upon his own.

Source: Al Jazeera