Virat Kohli’s Indian cricket team has scaled the heights of No 1 in Tests, utterly dominated visiting teams in the five-day game and pushed everyone they’ve played overseas. They boast this era’s best all-format batsman in Kohli, white-ball luminaries such as Rohit Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah, Mr ICC himself in Shikhar Dhawan, a record-breaking Test allrounder in R Ashwin and the best pace attack ever assembled by the country.
But what it does not have is an ICC title to boast of. And this is alarming.
For India’s last ICC silverware, look back at 2013 when they won the Champions Trophy in England. Since they won the ODI World Cup in 2011 under MS Dhoni, India have reached the semi-finals of three white-ball ICC events (2015 and 2019 ODI World Cup, 2016 T20 World Cup) and the final of another (2017 Champions Trophy). Most recently, they met New Zealand in the inaugural ICC World Test Championship final in England this summer and finished runners-up.
Kohli was a part of each of these tournaments, and led in three of them. As good as he has been as a batsman and captain, Kohli does not have an ICC title to show for. And so, when he leads India in the upcoming edition of the T20 World Cup, the question will again be asked: Can Kohli lead India to the trophy?
Kohli bowed out of the Royal Challengers Bangalore captaincy by leading the franchise to the play-offs, but once more he left the job unfinished and RCB fans continue to search for the elusive IPL trophy. Fans of Indian cricket should hope that this is not a precursor for things at the World Cup.
Not winning major titles is a longstanding problem with Indian cricket teams. In 1983, under Kapil Dev, India lifted the 50-over World Cup for the first time. They beat England in the semi-final and then pulled off arguably the greatest sporting upset of all time at Lord’s, where they defeated two-time winners West Indies. From 1985 to 1989, India reached at least one ODI semi-final per year. During this time, their record was 3-3 in tournament finals.
Their only semi-final win came over New Zealand in Australia during the Benson & Hedges World Championship of Cricket, a series they went on to claim. Other than that, India were beaten England in the 1987 World Cup semi-final and by West Indies in the three-team Champions Trophy in 1988 and the Nehru Cup a year later.
After this, India went three years without making the semi-finals of a tournament. Then, in 1993, they beat South Africa by two runs thanks to an inspired over from Sachin Tendulkar at Eden Gardens. India’s next semi-final appearance was in 1994, when they beat Australia by seven wickets during the Austral-Asia Cup held in Sharjah. In 1996, infamously, they went down to Sri Lanka at Eden Gardens during the World Cup semi-final. Two years later, Tendulkar’s team lost to West Indies in the semis of the inaugural ICC Champions Trophy (then called the Wills International Cup).
From 2000 to 2015, India did not lose a tournament semi-final. Along the way, they won the semis of the 2000 ICC Knockout Trophy, the 2002 and 2013 editions of the Champions Trophy, the 2003 and 2011 ODI World Cups and the 2007 T20 World Cups. However, these results do not paint an overall accurate picture of the various Indian teams success, because from 2000 to 2010 India lost 16 ODI finals, including tri-series in which there were no semis.
This being Kohli’s last assignment as captain of India’s T20I team, expectations are high. Indian cricket is the biggest in the business; it runs the biggest T20 league in the world, has the best bench strength of all teams and is the only team in the T20 World Cup with every single pick for the starting XI having played in the recent IPL. For additional support, the BCCI has named Dhoni, who just led Chennai Super Kings to their fourth IPL title, as mentor to India’s T20 World Cup squad.
For all the success and confidence gained from the IPL, India have not won a single T20 World Cup since the league began in 2008. There is no reason that Kohli’s team should not win this World Cup. Anything less than a place in the final, given Indian cricket’s stature and eco-system and the level of skill in the current squad, should be viewed as a colossal failure.