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India’s Virat Kohli shows the runners-up medal after India lost the ICC Cricket World Cup final at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on November 19, 2023. Australia won the final by six wickets. Image Credit: Reuters

It’s not often that you end up on the losing side after scoring 765 runs in a Cricket World Cup. It happened to Virat Kohli. India’s talismanic batter struck three centuries and six half-centuries, including one in the final, but he couldn’t take India over the line. Australia and Travis Head were too good on Sunday, and the World Cup sailed Down Under for the sixth time.

Kohli was adjudged the Player of the Tournament for his prolific scoring. He certainly would have traded it for the World Cup. Despite all the runs he scored in the tournament, India needed some more in the final at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad. A century would have been nice, and that perhaps would have fetched a win for India.

How Kohli fell in the final

It was on course until the 29th over, bowled by Australian captain Pat Cummins. Kohli was on 54 when he rose on his toes to tap down a short delivery, only to see the ball crash onto the stumps. Kohli was livid. Crestfallen too, as Cummins wheeled away waving a clenched fist in celebration. It was the opening Australia needed, as Kohli and KL Rahul were in the middle of a repair work, adding 67 for the fourth wicket. 

It was an unexpected alteration in the script. Throughout the tournament, Kohli had anchored the innings so well and accelerated towards the end that India walked away with good totals. Kohli’s innings against Australia in the final seemed to take a similar course until it ended abruptly. The rest of the Indian innings slow-burned and crashed.

Kohli’s been India’s run machine. He’s been a critical component in India’s unbeaten streak that ended in the final. Not just that. His solidity enabled India to super-charge their strategy. It gave skipper Rohit Sharma the freedom to take risks to attack the bowlers in the powerplay. So even if Rohit departs early, Kohli will be there to bat deep, allowing other batters to play their strokes.

The tactics worked well in the league matches and semifinals. Even the final too. Until Cummins found a way to breach Kohli’s defence. It was the next big moment in the game after Rohit’s dismissal. Kohli’s exit only exacerbated a tough situation, and Ravindra Jadeja and Suryakumar Yadav couldn’t share Rahul’s burden. The result was an undercooked total.

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That shows how integral Kohli is to the team’s strategy.

It marks the rehabilitation of a batter who was villified for a three-year century drought and a relative lack of form. Kohli was scoring well, but not at the phenomenal rate of his halcyon days. That was enough for carping critics to attack him relentlessly. He stepped down from captaincy and slowly worked his way to his best iteration.

The World Cup was Kohli’s stage. A stage where he showcased his rare skill of keeping a cool head and navigating the minefield in a chase. He’s the master of chases — the maestro of high-pressure battles.

Too bad he ended up on the losing side despite being the tournament's top-scorer. A World Cup win would have been the icing on Kohli’s cake. After all, he's lone survivor of the World Cup-winning squad of 2011.