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India's Virat Kohli in cheerful mood despite going through a lean patch in the Twenty20 World Cup. Image Credit: ANI

Virat Kohli is a livewire on a cricket field. Seldom does he keep quiet. Be it fielding, catching, or showing aggression, he is right there in the thick of action. You might like him or hate him for his combative nature, but more often than not, he lets the bat silence his detractors. Surprisingly, in the Twenty20 World Cup in the West Indies and the USA, he has been so quiet that he is almost invisible.

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The runs have dried up; his highest score was 37 against Bangladesh. His scores in the World Cup are 1, 4, 0, 24, 37, 0, and 9, totalling just 75. Kohli had scored 82 not out against Pakistan in the Twenty20 World Cup opener in Melbourne, more than the aggregate of his seven innings. It’s a far cry from the 296 runs he scored in Australia in six innings and 765 in 11 innings during the 2023 50-over World Cup in India, topping the batting charts on both occasions.

What’s gone wrong? Kohli likes the ball come on to the bat, and the lack of pace on the West Indies and USA pitches has not helped his batting. The move to the opener’s role hasn't helped either. To make the most of the field restrictions during powerplay overs, Kohli has been ultra-offensive, leading to his downfall. The drop-in pitch in New York has only compounded his woes, where the ball was seaming and the unpredictable bounce sowed doubts in his mind, eroding his confidence.

Previous performances and future prospects

Before the Indian Premier League Season 17, Kohli’s low T20 strike rate was the talking point, and the 35-year-old again proved his detractors wrong by winning the Orange Cap with 741 runs at an average of 61.75 and a strike rate of 154.69, which is way higher than his international strike rate of 137.20.

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Kohli, after hitting his trademark pick-up six over midwicket, lost his wicket immediately against England. Image Credit: AFP

However, his attempt to replicate this success on the international stage has led to impatience and early dismissals. In fact, India have not had good starts in the tournament. The run-drought of the top run-scorer of the last two World Cups hasn't affected India's progress to the final. They meet South Africa in Barbados on Saturday (6.30pm UAE).

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Will Kohli rebound?

Will Kohli end his slump in the final? He has been a fighter who had overcome adversities on the field. The bigger the stage, the better he performs. Kohli could be the big threat for South Africa in the final.

“We understand his class. Form is never a problem when you’ve played for 15 years. Probably Kohli is saving his best for the final,” skipper Rohit Sharma told the official broadcasters after the win over England in the semi-finals.

Advantage of Kensington Oval

The Kensington Oval in Barbados generally offers true pace and bounce after the initial overs, which will be to Kohli’s advantage. However, the Indian team management needs to bring him to his favourite No. 3 spot against South Africa, who have a strong bowling attack.

In 16 innings as an opener, Kohli has averaged 33.93, while at No. 3, he has amassed 3,076 runs at an average of 53.96. The contrast is stark.

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Coach Rahul Dravid is confident of Kohli ending his lean patch in the final against South Africa. World No 1 Suryakumar Yadav (left) has been lending the stability in the middle order. Image Credit: ANI

“With Virat, the thing is, when you play a slightly high-risk brand of cricket there can be times when it doesn’t come off,” Dravid said after India's entry into the final. “Even today, I thought he hit a really good six to set the tempo, but he was just unlucky that the ball seamed a little bit more. But I love the intent, I love the way he went about doing it.

“And for some reason, I don’t want to jinx it, but I think there’s a big one coming up. I’m just loving his attitude and that he’s committing himself on the field — I think he deserves it.”

Team strategy

The South African pacers can be dangerous on pitches that offer assistance, as evident in the thrashing of giant-killers Afghanistan in Wednesday's semifinals.

With Rohit finding his sublime touch, India could afford to drop the young Shivam Dube and either pick Sanju Samson in the middle order or opener Yashasvi Jaiswal, allowing Kohli to drop down the order.

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Jasprit Bumrah, who is celebrating with teammates after dismissing Phil Salt, will be eager to get the early breakthrough against South Africa in final. Image Credit: ANI

Final matchup

The final will be a tight contest between Indian batting and South African bowling. The batting depth has helped India ease out of trouble and get those extra runs have been decisive.

South Africa’s batting has some matchwinners but wears an unsettled look. Playing their first World Cup final, the Proteas are in unknown territory, while India recently lost the 50-over World Cup final against Australia at home.

The varied Indian bowling will pose plenty of probing questions, and the big stage will only make South Africa more vulnerable. However, the Proteas have managed to handle tough situations better during this campaign under Aiden Markram. They won close matches against England, Nepal, Bangladesh, and the West Indies. So they would fancy repeating their act against India, who might not give them any toehold.

South Africa's Aiden Markram and Reeza Hendricks celebrate after winning the semi-finals against Afghanistan. Image Credit: Reuters

India’s journey to the final

The Men in Blue have beaten Pakistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and defending champions England with clinical displays. High on confidence, they start as favourites to win the title.

“We’ve been calm as a team. The final is a big occasion, but being composed helps make good decisions. I thought today (against England) we were steady and didn’t panic. That’s been key,” Rohit Sharma said on the team’s winning run. “We’ll try our best to win the ICC trophy for the first time since 2013; the team is in good shape. All I can hope is to put up a good show come the final.”

A good show from both teams is what fans across the world will be hoping for. Over to Bridgetown, Barbados.