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Virat Kohli is having the last laugh after being criticised for slow strike-rate and slow approach to the Twenty20 game. Image Credit: ANI

Dubai: Virat Kohli is at it again. The ace Indian batter put on a fine show to silence his critics who once again questioned the leading run-scorer’s place for the Twenty20 World Cup to be held in the West Indies and the US in June this year.

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The country’s highest Twenty20 run-scorer’s strike-rate and slow approach were cited as the main reasons against his chances and felt making way for young blood would be a better option. True, the old order changeth, yielding place to new.

New faces are paramount to keep the national team fresh and allow millions more to aspire for that single berth. The Indian Premier League in the last 16 years has given Team India a surfeit of talents. But replacing a player of Kohli’s calibre is not going to be an easy task. It should require planning and needs to be organic after a proper discussion with a player who has carried the team’s fortunes on his shoulders since he made his debut in 2008.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

Kohli is on top of his game and is fitter and faster than even some of the younger players. The 35-year-old talisman on Monday sent a big message to the selectors that he is not a finished product yet.

“I know my name is just attached to promoting the game in many parts of the world when it comes to T20 cricket, but I have still got it, I guess,” Kohli told official broadcaster after being named player of the match for his 77 that helped Royal Challengers Bengaluru chase down a tricky target against Punjab Kings and win by four wickets in the IPL Season 17 Match 6 on Monday.

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Virat Kohli was at his aggressive best during the 77-run knock against Punjab Kings in Bengaluru on Monday. Image Credit: AFP

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Kohli also took the Orange Cap for the leading run-scorer this season. “Don’t get overexcited, it’s just two games. I know what this [Orange Cap] means. In T20, I’m opening, so I try to give the team a blazing start. But when wickets start falling, you have to understand the conditions as well. The wicket wasn’t as placid as normal here. It was a bit two-paced. Had to play correct cricketing shots, couldn’t hit balls across the line. Tried a few, felt like I needed big hits at the other end, which didn’t happen as Maxi and Anuj got out quickly. Disappointed not having finished it off.”

The knock helped Kohli reach another milestone of 100 fifty-plus knocks. In 378 appearances, Virat has scored 12,092 runs at an average of 41.26, including eight centuries with a best of 122 not out. Kohli closely follows former West Indies opener Chris Gayle (110 fifty-plus scores and 22 centuries) and Australian left-handers David Warner (109 fifty-plus scores and eight centuries).

Putting illustrious pace attack to the sword

Kohli showed that he could score at a quicker pace by stepping out to flay the illustrious pace trio of Sam Curran, Arshdeep Singh and Kagiso Rabada.

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The former Bengaluru skipper capitalised on the spill on nought and hit the left-handed Curran for four boundaries including three successive hits to set up the chase in the first over. His flowing cover drives, flicks on the on-side and behind-the-wicket hits raised the noise at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium as chants of “Kohli, Kohli” filled the air.

“It’s been going on for years,” Kohli said about his love affair with his fans. “At the end of the day you don’t talk about the achievements, stats or numbers but the memories.

“It’s what [India coach] Rahul Dravid says. The friendship, love, appreciation, backing has been amazing and is what you’ll miss and never forget.”

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Virat Kohli shares a happy moment with coach Andy Flower after winning Royal Challengers' Bengaluru's first home game. Image Credit: ANI

Different scenario from 2008

Kohli’s quick-fire knock at a strike-rate of 157-plus comes close on the heels of a debate between former Indian all-rounder and coach Ravi Shastri and England’s Kevin Pietersen during the match No 5 between Gujarat Titans and Mumbai Indians.

“The World Cup is happening in the USA. India are playing Pakistan in New York. You’d want someone like a Virat Kohli to help the game grow,” Pietersen said.

Shastri, who had a great camaraderie with Kohli when the latter was India skipper, in his response said: “It’s not about growing the game, it’s about winning the competition. The game will grow wherever it needs to grow. What I’m trying to say is no baggage. And India won in 2007 T20 World Cup with a young side. You want youth. You want flamboyance. You want that dash.”.

The current scenario and team composition is different to 2008. None of the players has had the experience of playing in a Twenty20 game, hence skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, at the age of 26, was given the charge. Current skipper Rohit Sharma at 36 is still scoring runs in the shortest format while Dhoni at 42 is still good enough to play in IPL Season 17.

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Virat Kohli talks after receiving the Orange Cap during the prize presentation in Bengaluru on Monday. Image Credit: Sportzpics for IPL

Kohli’s childhood coach also weighed in his support, posting on social media: “His bat does the talking.”

Former India opener Wasim Jaffer expressed his frustration on chatter around Kohli’s strike rate and approach in T20I cricket, saying that he has produced match-winning contributions for India in ICC T20 World Cups time and again.

Wasim Jaffer is tired of the chatter

Kohli’s knock of 21 off 20 balls, with just a six in the IPL opener against Chennai Super Kings, added fuel to the conversation.

Taking to the X, Jaffer said: “Tired of all the chatter about ‘SR’ and ‘approach’ of someone who’s a modern great, and has done it time and time again, even in T20 WCs. In a video of ESPNCricinfo attached with his tweet, Jaffer said: “He only faced six balls in the powerplay (against the Chennai Super Kings). Generally, he goes hard in the powerplay and slows down when the spin is on. He will play the way he did last season. He had a strike rate of 140 in last season (of IPL). In his T20I career, he averages over 50 and has a strike rate of over 140. I do not know why we talk so much about someone who is a modern great and has done it time and again for India.”

Kohli stood firm but Punjab bowlers got down a few disciplined overs to put the pressure back on Bengaluru, but the star batsman, and later Dinesh Karthik, ensured victory.

— With inputs from agencies